The death of the 87 year old associate justice has already stimulated predictable but unenlightening reactions.
While all concede her grit in clinging to power in the face of physical adversity, this is not a quality usually lauded in rulers. Konstantin Chernenko is not regarded as a hero in Russia, nor Paul von Hindenburg in Germany or Marshal Petain in France. Justice Douglas’ reputation in history did not benefit from his stubbornness about leaving the Court.
Though depicted as a ‘liberal’ icon, her liberalism was curiously class-bound. Her principal legacy is the conception that distinctions based on gender or sexual orientation are at all times and places presumptively illegitimate. This conception was not limited to the domains of education and employment discrimination but extended to all social issues. It led her and the three other ‘liberals’ to join in the worst rhetorical extravagances of Justice Kennedy declaring situation ethics to