Celebrating the Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg


Melanie Barry, Staff Writer

Sept. 18, Ruth Bader Ginsburg died from complications due to pancreatic cancer at age 87. The nation wept. Murals painted, memorials created, vigils held and heavily attended, TV programs and sports events interrupted to commemorate Ginsburg’s memory, countless candles lit and countless tears shed. The sidewalks in front of the Supreme Court were covered in a sea of flowers and notes.

Across the country, the flag of the United States was flown at half-mast. President Donald Trump did not deliver an official speech on Ginsburg’s death, but expressed his remorse on camera when first hearing of her passing, and paid his respects at her casket along with the first lady on Sept. 24. It should be noted however that Trump has also slandered Ginsburg’s name in recent years, calling her “dumb” and a “disgrace”. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden delivered a speech on the passing of Ginsburg, calling her a “hero” and extending his sorrow to her family and friends.

“[Her death] was a shame,” says sophomore Joseph Nace. “She’s done a lot for the country and for equality movements as a whole. But it is what it is. It’s the nature of life. Hopefully, there will be new people like Ginsburg to follow in her footsteps.”

Ginsburg was an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. But there is so much more to her. In Senior Meghana Annamaneni’s words, “She was a woman who has spent her entire life fighting to move women’s rights forward.” She adds, “I don’t think my peers really know much about Ginsburg. I think they know at least that she was a Supreme Court Justice and that she passed away recently, but I’m not sure they know much about her work.” It is troubling to think that the younger generations could write paragraphs on the Founding Fathers of America, but they know very little about the American pioneers of their own lifetime. Luckily, as part of honoring Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her awe-inspiring story will be shared over and over again – through conversation, speeches, memorials, history textbooks, and journalism articles.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born and grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, on March 15, 1933. There, she was raised in a Jewish household. Her mother, whom she loved dearly, taught her the value of independence, selflessness, and a good education.

1954 was a big year for Ginsburg, with lots of ups and downs. Her mother passed the day before her graduation from Cornell, where she was first in her class. She married fellow law-student Martin D. Ginsburg, who was then drafted into the military shortly before the birth of their first child, Jane. After Martin’s discharge two years later, they both attended Harvard Law School (though her husband was a year ahead of her) in the fall of 1956.

It had only been six years since Harvard started allowing women to earn law degrees. Ginsburg was one of nine females in her class of 500. She and the eight other women were regularly overlooked and debased. On top of that, she was a new mother, and just a few months after beginning her education at Harvard, she was faced with a new challenge. Her ever supportive and charismatic husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which, at the time, had a 5 percent survival rate. While Martin was home bound, she not only cared for him, but also typed his papers and helped him complete his coursework. Then, on top of that, she also had the responsibility of writing for Harvard’s esteemed legal journal. Nevertheless, she graduated first in her class. “One of the most impressive things about her is that she accomplished so much despite everything working against her,” says Menting.

In 2020, Ginsburg’s resume would make her quite the hot commodity. Law firms would be fighting over her. But that was hardly the case in New York, 1959. Ginsburg was rejected from over a dozen law firms, often receiving sexist comments as explanations for her “ineligibility.” On the other hand, Martin, who had recovered, was quickly employed at a New York law firm. Ginsburg was forced to temporarily give up her dream, and instead found a job as a clerk for two years, then as a professor at Rutgers University (which she only managed to swipe because they needed diversity points).

Ginsburg taught law for almost 10 years, and while she did find some joy in teaching the younger generation, she was not happy. In the early 1970s, the women’s rights movement was growing, especially among the younger generation. Ginsburg was tired of watching others change the world (such as her own students). She wanted to be the one doing the changing.

In 1972, Ginsburg came across a tax case in which a man, Charles Moritz, was discriminated against because of his sex. This specific act of discrimination was built on the premise that women are the caregivers, and men would only be doing the caregiving if it were their wives who needed care. Ginsburg knew that she and Martin had to take the case. Other lawsuits were widely unsuccessful because they were about gender discrimination against women. She knew that the male judges would have a greater interest in a case about a man.

“Moritz v. Commissioner” was not Ginsburg’s first case, but it was certainly her first big case. She was able to gain support and representation from the American Civil Liberties Union because of her childhood connection with the legal director, Melvin Wulf. The judges unanimously ruled in Ginsburg’s favor. She argued a similar case in 1976, in which the men were discriminated against on the premise that men are more reckless. She won that case as well.

Though the significance of these cases may not be apparent at first, it was a huge step forwards, not only for Ginsburg’s career as a lawyer, but for the fight against systematic and social sexism. Annamaneni says, “The cases she argued became a precedent for a lot of other cases aiming to strike down gender-discrimination laws.” By getting the judges to sympathize with a victim of gender-discrimination because he was a man, thereby acknowledging the harm of gender discrimination, courts now had to take women’s cases of gender discrimination seriously.

After winning Moritz., Ginsburg founded and directed the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU. There, she continued to argue for the eradication of discriminatory laws based on sex in front of the Supreme Court, using clever strategies to appeal to the judges. She won five out of the six landmark cases she argued.

In 1980, Ginsburg was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In 1993, she was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the U.S. Supreme Court. She was the court’s second female justice and the first Jewish female justice. She served there for 27 years until her death, where she continued ruling in favor of women’s rights, LGTBQ+ rights, and many other important landmarks in American history.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a hero, an icon, and a trailblazer, who fought for the rights of the unrepresented people of America. So, it seems fit that her passing should elicit nationwide sorrow. But grief is not the only response to her death. A mixture of fear, fury, and excitement has taken hold in America. Just as Ginsburg took the seat of the late Justice Byron White, someone must now take hers.

Ginsburg died less than two months before one of the biggest elections in American history. Like the number of coronavirus cases in the United States, tensions are incredibly high. Perhaps the greatest demonstration of the political tension in America is what happened on Sept. 24. The president and first lady stood on the steps of the Supreme Court beside the casket of Ginsburg, bowing their head in respect. They were met with deafening booing, jeering, and the chanting: “Vote him out!”

Gonzales-Dábalos says, “If the election goes in Trump’s favor, Ginsburg’s death won’t mean anything. Trump will keep removing people’s rights. He will keep taking steps backwards. But, I think that people’s defiance against these acts will honor Ginsburg.” Unfortunately, it seems the news of Ginsburg’s death is already being eclipsed by the government’s response. Not two days after the death of Justice Ginsburg, President Donald Trump released “Fill Her Seat” merchandise on his website. “The president doesn’t seem to care about her death,” says Gonzales-Dábalos which should be taken note. Like, if you want to actually serve your people, you should look out for their needs as opposed to your own. Let us grieve.”

A week after her death, Trump announced his nominee for the new Supreme Justice, Amy Coney Barrett (all with the support of the same people who denied Obama the opportunity to nominate a justice four years ago). There is a lot to unpack here. First of all, no president has ever put forward a Supreme Court nomination while Americans are actively casting their votes for a presidential election. Therefore, this is the most politicized Supreme Court nomination in America’s history. Annamaneni says, “It matters who gets on the Supreme Court because they’re there for life, so if people have a strong opinion on that, hopefully they will feel more motivated to vote in the presidential election.”

Second, while Barrett is popular among conservative republicans, the rest of the country has its concerns. “I don’t really agree with a lot of her views on women’s rights, like her pro-life stance,” says Annamaneni. “Also, I’ve heard that she’s not very pro-LGBT. So no, I don’t agree with her.” Menting says, “I think that quote that’s been going around describes it perfectly. Ginsburg has opened all these doors for Barrett just so she can shut them.”

Finally, this is Trump’s third time appointing a Justice during his presidency. Like the other two, Barrett leans far right on all topics, which would make the Supreme Court have a 6:3 ratio of conservatives to liberals. Liberals fear that with such a clear conservative power in the Supreme Court, many of the past cases that have been blocked by liberal Justices such as Ginsburg will now have a chance of going through. These cases (according to liberals) would infringe on the basic human rights established in the past 50 years, many of which were established thanks to Ginsburg.

“The whole idea of trying to rush in a new Supreme Court Justice detracts from her successes and accomplishments,” says Nace. “Now we’re focused less on her legacy and more on who fills her seat,” he continues.

So, let us focus on her legacy.

Her great impact on Americans and the American way of life is obvious when you consider what things would be like if she did not exist. “If Ginsburg didn’t exist, I think America would still be stuck in, like, the 1800s. A sexist society that’s focused on men, and women are seen as weak. Since I’m a woman, I have a lot more rights than I probably would have that help me in my daily life. She’s eliminated a lot of discriminatory laws,” says Menting. Annamaneni says, “I’d like to hope that if she didn’t exist, someone else would have paved the way. But, I know that without her achievements and just looking at what we have today, we’d be a lot further back than we are right now.” There is no question that Ginsburg was a symbol of power for a lot of women. The case can also be made that she has made the world better for men as well. “If Ginsburg never did what she did,” says Nace, “I think there would be much more discrimination in the United States, for both men and women. She knocked down gender roles on both sides.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not just change our society’s environment. She changed the way we, as individuals, see the world, each other, and ourselves. Nace says, “I agree with all her stances on equality. We’re all on this earth together, so we might as well be treated fairly and equally.” Gonzales-Dábalos says, “I look up to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I want to make the world a better place too.”