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‘Notorious RBG’ will be remembered for victories yet to come

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

I hear that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s law clerks had to explain to her that her increasingly popular nickname, “Notorious RBG,” was a compliment.

I wish I could have been a fly on the wall as they explained the nickname’s origin in The Notorious B.I.G., the late “gangsta rap” superstar born Christopher George Latore Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls.

Happily, I hear that she was tickled to learn about her fellow New Yorker, even though I’m sure she didn’t go to law school dreaming about fame as a pop culture icon.

Yet, an icon she became. Her legal and judicial stardom fascinated us enough to bring stardom, particularly in liberal circles, that broke cultural and generational boundaries famously enough to be glorified in books, movies, T-shirts, coffee mugs, dolls and “SNL” sketches.

For many of us who were plunged into sorrow by Ginsburg’s death Friday at age 87, the “Notorious” seemed piquantly appropriate, ironic praise from her fans and vilification from her adversaries.

She was famous and formidable in the nice or the not-so-nice sense, depending on which side of her legal arguments you were on.

 

Yet she also famously became half of Washington’s oddest couple with her ideological opposite Justice Antonin Scalia, known for being no less conservative than she was liberal.

Until his death, their bonding agent was their shared love for opera, a love that was intense enough to be celebrated in a 2015 comic opera “Scalia v. Ginsburg,” sometimes known as “Scalia/Ginsburg.”

“For Ginsburg, who has been outnumbered throughout her career,” wrote Irin Carmon, co-author of “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” “it was also about making the institution work, no matter their disagreements.”

As opposing partisan sides sharpen their knives for new battles in the wake of her death, Justice Ginsburg’s successful approach to that mighty task of making the courts work offers valuable lessons for the future.

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