Remembering Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Celebrating a Legendary Icon

%22A+Beautiful+Ruth+Bader+Ginsburg%22+by+John+Mathew+Smith+%26+www.celebrity-photos.com+is+licensed+with+CC+BY-SA+2.0.+To+view+a+copy+of+this+license%2C+visit+https%3A%2F%2Fcreativecommons.org%2Flicenses%2Fby-sa%2F2.0%2F

“A Beautiful Ruth Bader Ginsburg” by John Mathew Smith & www.celebrity-photos.com is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Annie Sinert, Opinions Editor

On the evening of September 18th, 2020, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (R.B.G.) passed away at her home in Washington D.C. from complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer at 87 years old. Her death came a mere six weeks away from one of the most divisive Presidential Elections in U.S. history, opening questions for the future of women’s rights and other social issues.

The world is still struggling to face this shattering news, which will affect US politics and reverberate around the globe for generations. With the COVID-19 pandemic and the strong rise in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, this year has already been tumultuous and torturous for many. Our sense of stability has been turned upside down and our assumptions about civil society, ethics in leadership, reliability of the news (or fake news), our climate, and economy, are all being actively challenged. 

While the fear of the imminent future rings true for many, we cannot allow the memory of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to be forgotten. We as a nation and a people, must remember and continue the enduring legacy of the notorious person that is R.B.G.

The most influential leader in the shift towards gender equality in the legal world, Ginsburg began her legal education at Harvard Law School and later graduated from Columbia Law School where she finished first in her class in 1959. Despite her excellent credentials, Ginsburg, like many other women in her position at the time, struggled to find employment as a lawyer because of her gender and the fact that she was a mother. Law firms were hesitant to employ her, as they worried that her responsibilities as a mother would intervene with her responsibilities as a lawyer.

Eventually, Ginsburg found work teaching at Rutgers School of Law, but was asked by the dean of the school to accept a low-salary because of her husband’s “well-paying job.” Despite her outrage at this request, Ginsburg accepted the proposal and worked for several years as an assistant professor.

In the early months of 1971, Ginsburg worked closely with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) outside of her teaching position. She was helping them draft briefs in two federal cases, one of which —Reed v. Reed— became a national landmark case in gender equality.

Overall, this case involved a provision of the federal tax code that denied single men a tax deduction for serving as caregivers to their families according to a Probate Code in the state of Idaho. In a unanimous decision, the Idaho Supreme Court held that “the law’s dissimilar treatment of men and women was unconstitutional” according to the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and was the first case in which a gender-based statute was struck down on the basis of this clause.

As a milestone, the case initiated Ginsburg’s position as a leading figure in gender discrimination litigation and served as the foundation of her emerging status in the legal world. Eventually, these accomplishments inspired the remarkable 2018 movie, On the Basis of Sex, a film based on the life and early cases of the Supreme Court Justice.

Soon after this decision, Ginsburg served on the founding counsel of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project and co-authored a law-school casebook on gender discrimination, becoming the first tenured female faculty member at Columbia Law School having won five of the six cases she argued before the Supreme Court.

It came as no surprise when, in 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Washington, D.C., as well as when President Bill Clinton later nominated her to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993. Ultimately, Ginsburg was endorsed unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee and confirmed by the full senate with a vote of 96-3, making her the second woman to serve on the highest court in the land.

During her time on the court, she quickly developed a reputation as a pragmatic liberal with a keen attention to detail who, as Clinton once put it, was “a much needed healer and conciliator on a divided court.”  Ginsburg had a strong desire to represent and voice in favor of gender equality, the rights of workers, and the separation between the church and state; voting in several landmark cases whose precedence still holds today.

In 1996, Ginsburg voted with the majority in the case of United States v. Virginia which held that the state-supported Virginia Military Institute could not refuse to admit women. In 2015, she voted with the majority again on two important cases: King v. Burwell which essentially established Obamacare through the 2010 Affordable Care Act and Obergefell v. Hodges which made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. Arguably her most notorious judgement came from  the 2000 case: Bush v. Gore. This case concerned the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore wherein the Florida Supreme Court ordered that the Circuit Court in Leon County tabulate 9,000 congested ballots from Miami-Dade County by hand. The Court  also ordered that every county in Florida must immediately begin manually recounting all ballots which did not indicate a vote for president as they argued that there were enough congested ballots to place the outcome of the election in doubt.

Governor George Bush and his running mate, Richard Cheney, filed a request for a review in the U.S. Supreme Court and sought an emergency petition for the stay of the Florida Supreme Court’s decision. This case proposed two questions: (1) did the Florida Supreme Court violate Article II Section 1 Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution by making a new election law and (2) do standardless manual recounts violate the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Constitution?

Despite her reputation for restrained writing, Ginsburg gathered considerable attention for her dissenting opinion in this case. Objecting to the court’s majority opinion favoring Bush, she deliberately and subtly concluded her decision with the words “I dissent” (including the adverb “respectfully”), a significant departure from her traditional views. This case was one of the first cases in which Ginsburg found a voice in dissension from the majority, wherein she inadvertently laid the groundwork for women to rise in their challenge against patriarchal societal norms.

Ultimately, Ginsburg accomplishments fundamentally changed the reputation of women in law by paving the way for female acceptance in a traditionally male-dominated profession. A century ago, a woman occupying a seat on the Supreme Court would never have been possible. Over the last several decades, Ginsburg was among a handful of leaders who forged a place for women to be able to sit among the most elite as well as having a place in the federal government.

She was once asked how many female Supreme Court Justices could be “enough” on the court of nine. “Nine,” she replied. “Well why not? No one thought it was odd when there were nine men. Competence and talent should be the defining characteristics of appointment.”

Currently, Ginsburg’s vacancy gives President Donald Trump the opportunity to further solidify a conservative majority on the court, as opposed to filling the seat with a woman who is capable of shattering the glass ceiling and steering the court to the pertinent social issues that plague our society and US politics. Although the prospect may be frightening for some, it would be a disservice to Ginsburg’s legacy if this is the only piece we take away from her passing.

“I would just like people to think of me as a judge who did the best she could with whatever limited talent I had… “to keep our country true to whatever makes it a great nation and to make things a little better than they might have been if I hadn’t been there,” Ginsburg said, at an event at the University of California Hastings College of law in 2011. 

Justice Ginsburg, thank you. May the memory of your righteousness and justice be a blessing for people today and those living in the world to come.