After a long battle with cancer, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died yesterday. She and her wisdom will be missed profoundly.
As a civil rights attorney, an appellate court judge and a U.S. Supreme Court justice, Ginsburg could be counted on to understand the plight of the underdog. She also understood that being an underdog does not mean you have no rights.
Ginsburg is best known for fighting for, and then protecting, the rights of women. She is less known for her position on registrants.
Yet buried in the infamous decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, Smith v. Doe, Ginsburg spoke clearly about her understanding of registrants and the challenges they face in her dissent to that decision.
Although a majority of her colleagues determined that the sex offender laws in the state of Alaska were not punitive and could therefore be applied retroactively, Ginsburg strongly disagreed and determined that those laws were excessive in relation to their alleged nonpunitive purpose.
Ginsburg accurately saw and reported that Alaska’s sex offender laws imposed “onerous and intrusive obligations on convicted sex offenders.” She went on to report that those laws expose “registrants, through aggressive public notification of their crimes, to profound humiliation and community-wide ostracism.” Ginsburg added that the laws “resemble historically common forms of punishment” and called to mind “shaming punishments once used to mark an offender as someone to be shunned.”
Also, in her dissent, Ginsburg noted that the Alaska laws applied to registrants, without regard to their current or future risk to public safety. She further noted that the duration of the state’s reporting requirements was not keyed to “any determination of a particular offender’s risk of reoffending, but to whether the offense of conviction was aggravated.”
And according to Ginsburg, the reporting requirements in the Alaska laws did not reflect the possibility that registrants are capable of rehabilitation. Specifically, she stated that “(h)owever plain it may be that a former sex offender currently poses no threat of recidivism, he will remain subject to long-term monitoring and inescapable humiliation.”
Your wisdom and your voice will be missed, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We thank you for your understanding of, and compassion for, the underdog including those required to register as a sex offender. We thank you for inspiring us to continue to fight incrementally until society recognizes that all citizens, including registrants, have rights and are protected by the U.S. Constitution.