Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s impact was positive for some, negative for others

Renne Josse de Lisle/The Cougar

Renee Josse de Lisle/The Cougar

The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, champion of women’s rights, died recently. While it’s true that she did a lot for women’s rights in this country, she has also made many decisions that hurt indigenous people. It’s important to talk about the problems in her time as a Justice because otherwise we aren’t looking at her truthfully.

Ginsburg was the first woman to do a lot of things such as serve on the Harvard Law Review and earn tenure at Columbia University. She directed the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union fighting against discrimination in the workplace. When she was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993, she kept fighting for women’s rights, such as the right to abortion. 

Ginsburg was also the first Jewish woman on the Supreme Court. She was proud of her heritage and was an icon for Jewish people in America in a time where anti-Semitism seeed to be increasing on the daily. 

She was beloved and it’s understandable that her death is difficult for many people. It’s important that we remember her, but we should remember her fully, good and the bad. 

When politicians die, their lives are often washed of anything bad in order to remember them fondly. For Ginsburg, a lot of the bad came from her record on tribal sovereignty and we should recognize that.

In June, Ginsburg voted majority in a decision saying it was OK for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to be built. The Lumbee Tribe in North Carolina were concerned that the construction would disrupt the ecosystems in their community. 

The construction would disrupt forests that contain resources used by the tribe and burial grounds. However, the Supreme Court ruling supported by Ginsburg made it so the pipeline could be built and didn’t need to consult with the Lumbee. 

It’s important to note that when pipelines are built on Indigenous land, violence against Indigenous people tends to increase. 

Man camps are housing for the company workers, who are usually not from the area. There have been increases in sex trafficking, rape, and violence against Indigenous people in correlation with man camps such as the Keystone Pipeline. 

Ginsburg’s vote for the pipeline would have contributed to this if the pipeline wasn’t shut down by the company earlier this month due to legal fees. 

She also voted against Indigenous people in Sherrill vs Oneida, where the Oneida Indian Nation reservation was buying back land it had once sold, claiming the land was part of the reservation again. The City of Sherrill claimed the land didn’t belong to the reservation so they needed to pay taxes. 

Ginsburg wrote the opinion siding with the city. She said the land didn’t belong to the reservation because its sovereignty couldn’t be re-bought by the Oneida. This opinion implied that sovereignty of Indigenous tribes was a thing of the past and something that could not be reclaimed. 

That contributes to the idea that Indigenous culture is a thing of the past, which isn’t true. Indigenous people are still alive and they’re entitled to sovereignty.   

Ginsburg had a problem with tribal sovereignty and rights. These aren’t the only two cases either. She had a habit of voting against the favor of Indigenous tribes; this is bad and perpetuates the idea that Indigenous people don’t have a right to their land, even though it’s rightly theirs.

Thankfully, she did vote in favor of tribal sovereignty in the groundbreaking McGirt vs. Oklahoma case which basically stated that half of Oklahoma was Indigenous land. 

This is amazing for tribal sovereignty but it doesn’t erase the harm she’s done in the past. We can hope that the McGirt case will impact cases in the future improving the state of sovereignty for First Nations people.

Some people may say to not speak ill of the dead, but it’s important, especially for political figures, that we see them how they were. 

The late Supreme Court justice was a brilliant woman who fought hard for women’s rights but fell short when it came to Indigenous rights. She fell short in other areas too, such as prisoner’s rights and criminal justice, but most consistently with tribal sovereignty. 

It’s OK to mourn Ginsburg, especially since her replacement doesn’t look too promising for progressive agendas. We can’t whitewash her career because it wouldn’t be true, and when it comes to political figures, we should remember them truthfully.

Anna Baker is an English junior who can be reached at [email protected]

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