The news of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on September 19th brought Americans from across generations together to honor her life. Our nation is in mourning for the loss of such an inspiring leader, thinker, trailblazer and role model. She was instrumental in breaking down piece by piece gender discrimination woven deep within American law to build a stronger democracy.
There was an outpouring of Americans in front of the Supreme Court and across the nation within hours of her death. Sidewalks across the country were covered with tributes of flowers, lit candles, chalk messages and handwritten notes, and about 2,500 people attended a vigil on the steps of the Supreme Court that evening. They even adorned the Fearless Girl in NYC as her.
She was soft spoken and barely 5 feet but she was a warrior and larger than life — “petite and tiny in size, but huge in impact,” described Nancy Pelosi.
She played a substantial role in laws for divisive social issues
Serving more than 27 years as a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, she consistently delivered progressive votes on the most divisive social issues of the day, including abortion rights, same-sex marriage, voting rights, immigration, health care and affirmative action.
She was one of nine women accepted into Harvard Law School, where the Dean admonished those women for taking a man’s spot. Even while caring for her children and husband, who was recovering from cancer, all through law school, she became the first woman on the Harvard Law Review.
Ginsburg even faced discrimination when she graduated top of her class and could not get a job in a law firm, simply because she was a woman. She worked tirelessly for more than 34 years as a teacher, litigator and jurist and, in 1993, she became just the second woman to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States. Even in her death, she is making firsts: She will be the first Jewish person and the first woman to lie in state at the Capitol.
Ginsburg was well-known for the work she did before taking the bench, when she served as an advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union and became the architect of a legal strategy to bring cases to the courts that would ensure that the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection applied to gender. Her premise was that “sex, like race, has been the basis for unjustified or unproved assumptions concerning an individual’s potential to perform or contribute to society.”
She argued six landmark cases on gender equality before the Supreme Court and won all but one of them. “Society would benefit enormously if women were regarded as persons equal in stature to men,'” she said in a commencement speech in 2002.
Early on, she strategically honed in on economic gaps to make the case for equal rights, focusing on small cases so she didn’t ignite the opposition. However, these small cases changed legal history in the United States forever, because when she set a precedent for a single case, it prompted legislation to review hundreds of state and federal laws.
She also strategically showcased men harmed by gender discrimination to exemplify the unjust nature of discrimination overall.
Much of what we as women are able to do today, is paved directly by her laws, including applying for a credit card, bank account, and a mortgage without a male co-signer.
Ginsburg ultimately did share the Supreme Court with three other women, but said her most lonely days were when she was the only female on the Supreme Court in 2006 and in 2007 after Sandra Day O’Connor retired. She said “When I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court] and I say, ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there has always been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”
Ginsburg was known for clear dissents and respectful arguments
She was renowned for her powerful judicial dissents, often involving civil rights or equal protection. “Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.”
Once she took the bench, Ginsburg had the reputation of a “judge’s judge” for the clarity of her opinions that gave straightforward guidance to the lower courts.
Justice Ginsburg epitomized the art of powerful yet respectful argument; that you can disagree with someone without being disagreeable to them. This was most deeply exemplified by her friendship with Justice Scalia who despite their ideological differences, was her best friend on the bench. Her friendships with conservatives makes her a shining model of civility and decency.
| She would say “fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
And in case you were wondering, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s lace collar was not an accessory. It was a symbol, with all sorts of meanings woven into each one, carefully chosen for the day.
From her iconic bejeweled “dissent” neck collar to more understated lace, RBG had a look for every court decision. Ginsburg always wore her notorious “dissenting collar” whenever she wanted to communicate her condemnation. (The day after Trump’s election, she wore it to sit on the bench, even though the court didn’t issue any decisions that day.)
Her private life was untraditional too (for the times)
Ruth Bader Gindsburg had a true love story, marrying Marty Ginsburg, a partner with unwavering support of her career and the willingness to actively take on an equal share of daily family responsibilities. When they met, they agreed that they would both build their careers and not take on traditional gender roles.
She states that “women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.” When the teachers used to only call Ruth, interrupting her very busy work day to ask if she could pick up their child, she finally said, “This child has two parents, please alternate calls. It’s his father’s turn.” Their marriage uniquely allowed her to be the ambitious professional and fearless warrior she became.
Privately, Ginsburg faced a number of health complications. In 1999, she was diagnosed with colon cancer. A decade later, she was treated for pancreatic cancer. In 2014, she underwent a heart procedure to have a stent implanted. And in 2019, she had surgery for lung cancer. But it never slowed her down for long. The longest she was out was 18 days and in all 27 years, and she only missed one argument when she was recuperating from cancer surgery in 2019.
Her death—less than seven weeks before Election Day—opens up a political fight over the future of the court. RBG’s dying words to her granddaughter were “my most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” Yet GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell is vowing to vote on Trump’s expected nominee as soon as possible—even though he blocked President Barack Obama from filling Scalia’s seat in 2016.
At that time, Republicans invented the principle that the Senate shouldn’t fill an open seat on the Supreme Court before a new president was sworn in. Obama, in a statement mourning Ginsburg, implored Republicans to uphold the standard they set in 2016 when they blocked his nominee: “A basic principle of the law—and of everyday fairness—is that we apply rules with consistency, and not based on what’s convenient or advantageous in the moment.”
And he concluded “Justice Ginsburg helped us see that discrimination on the basis of sex isn’t about an abstract ideal of equality; that it doesn’t only harm women; that it has real consequences for all of us. It’s about who we are—and who we can be.”
Ginsburg will long be remembered as one of the greatest legal minds in recent history, radically changing how we understand gender equality and the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution today. Her memory will be that she was a fierce advocate and inspiration to generations.
Justice Ginsburg burst into popular culture and became an internet sensation after a law student proclaimed her the Notorious R.B.G., a play on the nickname of a famous rapper.
She was the subject of two movies—a fictionalized drama of her early life in which she juggled work and motherhood, and a documentary that let women into her personal life as a wife, mother and grandmother. Ginsburg was known to pose the question, “What is the difference between a bookkeeper in the Garment District and a Supreme Court Justice? Her answer: ‘One generation. . . from my personal experience”
She never forgot where she came from, or those who sacrificed to help her grow into the historic icon we all revere. About her legacy, she said, “To make life a little better for people less fortunate than you, that’s what I think a meaningful life is. Our lives are not just for oneself, but for one’s community.”
Justice Ginsburg’s work helped bring about greater equality for women and secure rights for the disabled. She will continue to influence our nation for generations to come—as a transformative figure whose impact is deeply woven into the fabric of our democracy. The pioneering Supreme Court Justice has passed on, but her words remain to inspire and challenge us all.
Highlight of The Week: Honoring her—it’s on us now to take up the fight for our freedoms
The nation poured out their grief, anger and defiance as they honored this transformative figure, donating millions, gathering at memorials, and vowing to fight for RBG as she fought for them.
Democrats raised more than $71 million in the hours after her death, demonstrating how her passing has energized political participation and activism. Her death is galvanizing people to stand up and lend a voice to protect their freedoms; it’s turned into a rallying cry for people to vote.
Many of the young people at rallies say they are there to thank Ginsburg and to promise they would take up her fight.”We have a lot of work to do and a lot of fighting to do in the next 45 days,” said Kiley Boland, 25, who clutched a book on Constitutional law under one arm.
“It’s on us now. She can rest; we got this.”
Challenge of The Week:
Many fear that the Supreme court’s majority will roll back equality protections that have taken decades to fight for. “It’s up to the masses to continue her fight. It’s our time to fight, this is our future, and the future of the next generation.” Kamala Harris voiced.
The threat to everything Ginsburg fought for is at stake: health care, women’s rights, abortion, voting rights.
Get involved, make calls, vote not only for federal but for your local seats. And make sure you complete and return your census .
So be active—Live her Legacy!
Kendall Webb, Executive Director