A tribute to a titan of the US judicial system
Our nation mourns the loss of arguably one of the most brilliant minds our legal system has seen, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her death comes following countless ailments, all of which never stopped her from sitting on our nation’s highest court. Ginsburg’s death, according to many political analysts, has added to the turmoil of the 2020 presidential election by putting a Supreme Court nomination on the line; but instead of focusing on the political implications of her passing, I’d like to focus on her career as a lawyer as well as her tenure on the Supreme Court.
Ginsburg graduated from Cornell as an undergraduate and studied at Harvard Law School until her husband, Marty, moved the family to New York. While finishing her studies at Columbia Law School, Ginsburg assisted her husband while he was ill, took care of a newborn child, and still managed to finish top of her class at one of the most prestigious colleges in the country.
Throughout her schooling, Ginsburg was one of just a handful of women at any given time and dealt with consistent discrimination as a result. This, according to many, lit a fire under her to focus her career on discrimination on the basis of sex.
At the time Ginsburg was studying, the Women’s Rights Movement was a social issue and rarely crossed into the judicial realm of government. The movement was making headlines, but not changing how women were treated under that law. That was until Ginsburg got involved.
After teaching at Rutgers Law School, Ginsburg began to volunteer at the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, first writing briefs then founding the Women’s Rights Project. As its director, Ginsburg argued in front of the Supreme Court six times: she won five of the cases.
Within all of her briefs, Ginsburg brilliantly speaks to the case at hand while making a point to argue against sex discrimination as a whole. During her first case at the Supreme Court, Ginsburg quotes Sarah Grimkè, “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”
Ginsburg left the ACLU to sit on the U.S Court of Appeals where she served until President Bill Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court, the second woman ever. 96 senators voted to confirm her, a near unanimous vote.
As the court became increasingly conservative, Ginsburg found herself on the dissenting side more often than the majority. Her dissents became powerful critiques of the conservative side of the court and she did so while maintaining her composure and legal brilliance.
In her infamous dissent of Shelby County v. Holder, which stripped major aspects of the Voting Rights Act, Ginsburg puts it simply, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
On a personal note, Ginsburg’s death deeply saddens me. In a court system with few female role models for an aspiring lawyer, Ginsburg was the only reason I knew that I could be a lawyer and think big with my goals. She is the reason I am here, at Reed, studying political science and falling in love with the work. She taught so many—including myself—that the winner of an argument is not based on the volume at which you speak, but is based on how much your words speak volumes. The sheer amount of sadness I feel is only met with the amount of determination I have to uphold her legacy and continue the work she began. I hope that women and allies of gender equality will join in the fight; while the glass ceiling has a massive crack due to Ginsburg, it is far from shattered.
Although many Representatives, Senators, and even President Trump have spoken about Ginsburg’s legacy, many of them have quickly moved on to the implications of her death in regards to the vacancy on the court. While this is important, many people around the nation are still grieving from her passing. Talking about her death as an opportunity to fill her spot on the bench is disregarding her life and her significance. Before we look on how her passing will impact the future, let us look back at the beautiful life she lived, and thank her for what she has done.