Just five days ago, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died at the age of 87 after a long battle with cancer, and I, like much of the country, am devastated. If you've read my articles in the past or know me in the slightest, you are probably aware that I'm an avid feminist. I didn't know much about her when I was young, but after reading about her advocacy in Obergefell v Hodges (the case that legalized gay marriage), I was hooked. I began to research more about her life, reading books, studying her work in law, watching interviews and documentaries, and everything in between.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg grew up in Brooklyn as a part of a working-class family who taught her the importance of independence and education. After graduating from Cornell, she and her husband Martin attended Harvard Law where she was one of 9 women in their class of 500. As the film "On the Basis of Sex" vividly depicts, Ginsburg and the other women in her class were asked to defend their worth as students who had "stolen" male spots; That didn't stop her from excelling in her legal coursework as well as her husband's when he was fighting cancer, all while raising her daughter Jane. When Martin got a job at a tax firm in New York, she transferred to Columbia, writing for their prestigious law review, and graduating top of her class.
Despite her academic achievements, Ginsburg struggled to find a job. After being denied from several firms, she began to teach at Rutgers Law School and later Columbia, where she became the first tenured female professor. In the early 70s, she founded the Women's Rights Project at the ACLU which continues to fight for women today. She fought numerous sex-based discrimination cases and was appointed to the DC Court of Appeals in 1980. Finally, in 1993, she became the second woman in history to be appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Once on the court, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and RBG saw a flaw in the design of their robes, so they decided to make fashionable collars to cover the low-cut necks that were designed solely for men. Soon, the public got to experience RBG's infamous "dissent collars" which were lacy, beautiful, and indicative of her disapproval on court opinions. Often, society tells women and girls that to be taken seriously they need to eschew from traditional femininity, but Ginsburg makes it apparent that she is proud of her womanhood and everything it entails.
If I were to enumerate RBG's impact on American law, I would end up writing a research paper. She perpetually challenged the status quo and consequently transformed it to work for women. We have her to thank for the right to sign a mortgage, take out a loan, and open a bank account without a male co-signer. We have her to thank for our right to hold a job and have a child without gender discrimination. We have her to thank for the presence of women in juries. We have her to thank for much of our reproductive freedoms. We have her to thank for same-sex marriage. Undoubtedly, the progress she has made for women is astounding. Yet, in the spirit of true equality under the law, the first court case she ever took was for an unmarried man seeking Social Security benefits to take care of his sick, elderly mother (Moritz v Commissioner). The courts declared that Tax Code 2.14 was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, and that gender discrimination was a violation of the 14th amendment. The gravity of that small tax-case ruling sparked a roaring movement toward ending sex-based discrimination.
Throughout her lengthy and wildly successful career in the American legal system, RBG has been a voice for the marginalized and excluded. She was small in stature, but as a jurist and Supreme Court Justice, she was a giant among men. Her intellect, drive, compassion, humility, and spirit have inspired lawyers, politicians, and citizens alike. Her perseverance and sheer determination made her a force of nature, and she has inspired women for decades and will continue to do so in her passing.
It is terrifying, however, that her death could spark fear in so many for the loss of their rights. One leader should not be holding the fabric of our judicial system together, and if that is the case, the institution of the Supreme Court and our democracy has been fundamentally altered. I cannot fathom any person who would have the power to fill her magnanimous shoes, so I pray that this administration will not rush this process. To replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg in haste and greed would be a travesty. Nonetheless, the Senate's choice nor the outcome of this election can ever taint the extraordinary legacy of a woman who refused to take no for an answer. So, to a trailblazer, titan, pioneer, advocate, champion, feminist, and phenomenal woman: Thank you will never be enough. Rest in power.