Rest in peace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, may your memory be a blessing.

Last week, more than a thousand people gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court to mourn the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died September 18, 2020, from cancer at age 87.

“Our nation has lost a justice of historic stature,” Chief Justice John Roberts said. “We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her, a tireless and resolute champion of justice.”

Ginsburg was born and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Her older sister died when she was a baby, and her mother died shortly before Ginsburg graduated from high school. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Cornell University and married Martin D. Ginsburg, becoming a mother before starting law school at Harvard, where she was one of the few women in her class. Ginsburg transferred to Columbia Law School, where she graduated joint first in her class. After law school, Ginsburg entered academia. She was a professor at Rutgers Law School and Columbia Law School, teaching civil procedure as one of the few women in her field.

She was an unlikely pioneer, a diminutive and shy woman, whose soft voice and large glasses hid an intellect and attitude that, as one colleague put it, was “tough as nails.”
Architect of the legal fight for women’s rights in the 1970s. Ginsburg spent much of her legal career as an advocate for gender equality and women’s rights, winning many arguments before the Supreme Court. She advocated as a volunteer attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union and was a member of its board of directors and one of its general counsel.

In Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, her client was fighting laws borne of a time when women generally were not expected to work unless circumstances forced it, while men were expected to see worth and obligation in their outsized ability to earn money. As she made her case, pausing to let each clause sink in, Ginsburg paraphrased the words of the first woman to serve as a district court judge in arguing why this unequal treatment of the sexes was wrong. Such “a gender line, helps to keep women not on a pedestal, but in a cage,” Ginsburg said, her words full and broad. It reinforces, she continued, the assumption that working for pay “is primarily the prerogative of men.”

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where she served until her appointment by President William Jefferson Clinton to the Supreme Court in 1993. She was not first on his list. For months, Clinton flirted with other potential nominees, and some women’s rights activists withheld their active support because they were worried about Ginsburg’s views on abortion. She had been publicly critical of the legal reasoning in Roe v. Wade.  But in the background, Marty Ginsburg was lobbying hard for his wife. And finally, Ruth Ginsburg was invited for a meeting with the president. As one White House official put it afterward, Clinton “fell for her — hook, line and sinker.” So did the Senate. She was confirmed by a 96-3 vote. 

Between O’Connor’s retirement in 2006 and the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor in 2009, Ginsburg was the only female justice on the Supreme Court. During that time, Ginsburg became more forceful with her dissents, notably in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007). Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion was credited with inspiring the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009.  This statute made it easier for employees to win pay discrimination claims.

Upon hearing of Ginsburg’s death, former U.S. Attorney and law professor Joyce Vance tweeted, “We should honor the life of RGB, American hero, by refusing to give in, refusing to back down, fighting for civil rights of all people and demanding our leaders honor the rule of law. This is our fight now.”

Ginsburg’s death has brought widespread mourning among those who saw her as a champion for equal rights for women, LBGQ Americans, minorities, and those who believe in the role of government  is to make sure that all Americans enjoy equal justice under law. 

Admirers called her “The Notorious R.B.G.” after the rapper B.I.G., who wore clothing with her image on it, dressed as her for Halloween, and bought RBG rag dolls and coloring books that told her story. 

Mourner’s came from all over the country to show their respect.  One said, “Before she started women could not by a house open a charge card in a department store without their husbands’ signature.” Another said, “There’s not that many people that can really change the world, but she did.” And another, “she had three strikes against her, she was a woman, she was Jewish, and she was a mother.”  A mother who was there reminded herself and her children we are so fortunate to live at this time in this life with the memory of Ruth Batter Ginsburg. 

Rest in peace Justice Ginsburg, may your memory be a blessing.


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