Grief over Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and dread for what comes next

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images).

Bereft.

That’s the only word I can think of that fits how I felt at the news of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death.

It’s not just about the loss of a stalwart warrior for equality and justice for people like me. Without Ginsburg, perhaps our country still would not recognize a constitutional right against sex discrimination. Perhaps it would still be legal under federal law for employers to pay women less than men simply because of their gender. As a career woman, I am grateful for her leadership and tireless commitment to justice for all, not just the wealthy and powerful.

We lose our champions over time. We do our best to share their stories and honor their memory.

I admired Ginsburg’s intellect, as well as her verve and passion. I’m sad for her family and loved ones. But my deeper grief is for our country.

I’m mourning because our nation will end a year of loss and strife by diving into yet another bottomless pit of anger and hatred. The poisonous acrimony over filling the vacant seat on the Supreme Court will make Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings look like a Victorian tea party.

We’ve already been treated to Hypocrisy’s Greatest Hits on the news and in our social media feeds. Sen. Mitch McConnell and his merry band of Senate Republican prevaricators (including Sen. Chuck Grassley) spoke passionately against confirming a Supreme Court justice nomination in a presidential election year in 2016. We’re hearing their words again now that most of them, including Sen. Joni Ernst, are shamelessly preparing to break that fake rule and claim it only applied to presidents of the opposite party.

At least we’re getting a little closer to the truth. The Senate Republicans’ refusal to provide a confirmation hearing for Judge Merrick Garland was about political power and nothing more. It’s disheartening that we’re beyond the point of even pretending our elected officials are operating under any other principle.

I’m despairing that our national priorities will again narrow down to the space of a womb. The only question that anyone will care about is whether the next Supreme Court nominee believes the only humans whose lives really matter are the unborn and that the right to bear arms is supreme even over the right to life.

I dread the likelihood that this Supreme Court battle will overshadow all other urgent business in our nation’s capital. We’ve rarely had a greater need for our elected leaders to work together to fight off COVID-19 and pick up the pieces of our economy. Millions are unemployed and facing hunger and homelessness, along with their children. Must they starve while politicians ignore everything but their desperate battle for power?

I fear that the American rights that Justice Ginsburg fought so hard to secure are fragile and increasingly in jeopardy, not only for women but for people of color, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities and mental illness.

Grief destroys some people. It makes others stronger. When a friend or a neighbor is bereaved, the most important thing we can do is be present. We reach out to them, bring over casseroles, sit with them, cry with them. We show up. We let them know they’re not alone.

When we are suffering from loss, the way many of us recover is to look outside of ourselves and find ways to help others.

Amid the grief, there’s a faint glimmer of hope. Hope that our nation can still come together. That we can listen. That we can look outside of ourselves. And that we can be far more than present on Election Day.

Kathie Obradovich
Iowa Capital Dispatch Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.