Bad news from the ACLU: Ruth Bader Ginsburg wasn't woke enough

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

That’s a lot of brackets for a two-sentence quote.

As you might guess, the original quote from Ginsburg’s SCOTUS confirmation hearing is “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When Government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.” You’ll find it reproduced accurately all over the web, including on … the ACLU website, in commentary written last year by … the director of the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Center for Liberty.

Ginsburg famously helped found the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, a fact which the organization celebrates. One wonders how long it’ll be before they decide that the scope of that project is “problematic” due to being insufficiently “inclusive.”

Others have already made the salient point about this small but telling episode, that it represents a betrayal of the ACLU’s original mission. Brendan O’Neill:

The generational churn at the ACLU now seems to be complete. Out have gone the genuine libertines of the Sixties and Seventies who defended free-speech rights even for those they loathed – the KKK, Nation of Islam, actual Nazis – and in their place are younger, woker, more intolerant campaigners who won’t even defend the right of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to say ‘woman’. The fall of the ACLU, its corruption by woke ideology, is a lesson in what happens when you elevate nebulous goals like ‘social justice’ over that most essential liberty – freedom of speech – and when you buy into, rather than ruthlessly resisting, the reactionary idea that protecting people from offence is more important than standing up for our right to say, write, think and believe whatever we want.

What the ACLU has done here, marvels Charles Cooke, is censor Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Not in a legally actionable way but in a way that nonetheless corrupts what the group used to stand for (but no longer does), the freedom to speak even when one’s speech is unpopular. The ACLU would rather rewrite her words in death than reproduce them accurately and risk a backlash from the sort of brain-damaged progressive who insists on using terms like “birthing people” to describe pregnant women lest trans men be offended.

You’re free to use those terms if you like, as our benighted CDC does. But if you start bowdlerizing the dead to suit modern sensibilities — fringe modern sensibilities, at that — there’ll be no end to it. The point was made correctly last night on social media that brackets in a quotation are normally never, ever used the way the ACLU used them with Ginsburg. You can insert bracketed words in a quote to clarify a vague term that may not otherwise be understood by the reader — that is, to make the speaker’s intent more comprehensible — but it’s unethical to insert them to make it less comprehensible. And the distortion in Ginsburg’s case is an important one, as Cooke correctly notes. Her career before joining the Court was devoted to putting women on an equal footing with men legally, up to and including making it lawful for them to spare themselves from pregnancy. Excising women from Ginsburg’s legal career is a bit like excising blacks from Thurgood Marshall’s.

The ACLU chose to substitute its own meaning for that of the person it was quoting because trans rights are a priority for them now in a way that they weren’t for Ginsburg when she gave that quote. Unethical.

Even so, this sort of thing is a gift to conservatives. It’s absurd in the same way that “Latinx” is absurd, an attempt to shape thought by shaping language in a way that’s so clumsy and transparent in its indoctrinating design that it ends up alienating most people exposed to it. E.g.:

It’s comical. But it also shows how quickly the goalposts are moving on what the progressive vanguard believes qualifies as sufficiently enlightened. You would think that a pro-abortion quote from a liberal icon at a moment when a conservative Court is moving towards reconsidering Roe wouldn’t be at risk of being deemed “insensitive” by leftists. But someone at the ACLU evidently feared that it would now that support for trans acceptance has become a new touchstone of political correctness. It’s a cliche that “you can never be woke enough” but it’s actually true. Even if you’re Ruth Bader Ginsburg.