By Dr. Brian G. Ricca
In the months following Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, much was made of her deep friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia. To be fair, the same was done in the months following Scalia’s death as well. The two could not be further apart on the ideological spectrum, yet their well-documented friendship stood the test of time and the politics surrounding the Supreme Court.
It was an open secret that Scalia would send Ginsburg his opinions in advance, and once she noted because of reading one of those opinions, “[Scalia] absolutely ruined my weekend.” It was also well known that Scalia would send Ginsburg two dozen flowers on her birthday. Judge Jeffrey Sutton, a former clerk to Scalia, remembers asking of the Supreme Court Justice, “What good have all these roses done for you? Name one five-four case of any significance where you got Justice Ginsburg’s vote.” To which Scalia replied, “Some things are more important than votes.”
I was reminded of this relationship earlier this week when I saw this tweet from Eric Bradner from CNN. Current Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was giving a talk in Chicago at Roosevelt University. She was asked how she maintains relationships with judges she disagrees with, particularly Clarence Thomas. This was her response:
To be fair, I have no idea what Justice Thomas would say of his relationship with Justice Sotomayor, but based on what she shares about Justice Thomas’ relationships with others, it’s reasonable to wonder if he thinks similarly her. There is much we can learn, and emulate from these four justices, who sat and sit, on the highest court in our country.
In this instance, it has nothing to do with the law. The examples shared demonstrate that the relationships between these justices were forged on respect and love, that went beyond their legal opinions and perspectives. It showed how despite their differences, they built relationships based on the person, not the ideas the person holds. These four human beings are finding ways to connect, despite not agreeing on everything. That is a life lesson that we desperately need in 2022.
On Monday, October 17, Nicholas Rath, Chair of the Science Department at East Greenwich High School invited me to speak to his class of Advanced Placement Environmental Science students. He asked me to talk about my ideas around leadership, as the students will be holding their own version of the Conference of Parties (COP) Conference. This November, the Egyptian Government will host the COP 27 Conference to build on previous successes and find more ways to address global climate change.
Given that climate change, like many other issues has been heavily politicized, one of the ideas I offered to the AP students was that as leaders, we need to lean into the grey. Too often issues become black or white, right or wrong, Republican or Democrat. When that happens, we often dismiss the person who hold those ideas in that black or white, all or nothing view. We lose the perspective that it is a person who has those views. A person. A human being. Someone who laughs when something is funny. Someone who
cries when something is sad. Someone who when their skin is cut, they bleed. Just like you and me.
Leaders must lean into the grey, and learn from these esteemed members of the United States Supreme Court to build relationships based on respect, love, and appreciation for those who see the world differently than we do. Educators must lean into the grey, so that we can teach our students to lean into the grey. Slowly, one relationship at a time, we must begin to slow the polarization that is creeping further and further into our world.
Who do you appreciate, that sees the world differently than you do?