We're Just Really, Really Going To Miss Ruth Bader Ginsburg
I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a fucking giant.
What can be said about her that hasn't already been said, and more eloquently, by someone else? Someone who is surely more qualified than I to pontificate on all the contributions of this incredible woman. Someone who wasn't blinded by grief and despair while struggling to comprehend the legacy of a woman without whom so many of us wouldn't be where we are today.
It's hard not to feel lost in despair right now — not just about losing such an icon, but about the future of our country. But it's not fair to this incredible woman for all of the focus to be on our impending doom.
In our grief, we can't forget to remember RBG and honor her legacy by continuing our fight for equality.
It is apt that Ruth Bader Ginsburg enjoyed using the word "pathmaking." She was one of nine women accepted to Harvard Law in 1956. At the beginning of her legal studies, the Harvard Law dean asked each of the female students how they could justify taking a sport that could have gone to a man. And that was only the beginning of the sexism she would encounter throughout her career.
RBG graduated first in her class, a member of both the Harvard and Columbia Law Reviews, with excellent faculty recommendations, but no law firms would hire her. As she recounted decades later,
Not a law firm in the entire city of New York would employ me," she later said. "I struck out on three grounds: I was Jewish, a woman and a mother.
Of course, the discrimination only fueled her fire. RBG went on to teach at Rutgers University Law school and then became the first female tenured professor at Columbia Law.
Well before she joined the Supreme Court as an Associate Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was changing the course of American legal history. After co-founding the ACLU's Women' Rights Project in 1972, she argued six cases before the Supreme Court in the 1970s — and won five of them. Much in the way Thurgood Marshall championed the legal fight for racial justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg championed the legal fight for women's rights.
As she argued,
Sex, like race, is a visible, immutable characteristic bearing no necessary relationship to ability.
Sex, like race, has been made the basis for unjustified or at least unproved assumptions, concerning an individual's potential to perform or to contribute to society. […]
These distinctions have a common effect: They help keep woman in her place, a place inferior to that occupied by men in our society.
Jimmy Carter appointed RBG to the DC Circuit as part of an effort to diversify the federal bench. She was widely viewed as a moderate during her time on the DC Circuit. Bill Clinton has always said it was Ginsburg's interview that sealed the deal.
Ginsberg became the second female Supreme Court justice when she was confirmed by the Senate in 1993. Although today the Notorious RBG is known at the Great Dissenter of the Roberts Court — and with good reason — that wasn't always the case.
One of Ginsburg's favorite majority opinions was the one she wrote striking down the Virginia Military Institute's long-standing males-only admissions policy in United States v. Virginia. She wrote that while Virginia "serves the state's sons, it makes no provision whatever for her daughters. That is not equal protection." VMI must
Women seeking and fit for a VMI quality education cannot be offered anything less, under the State's obligation to afford them genuinely equal protection
Today, 14 percent of VMI students are women.
As the Court lurched farther and farther to the right under John Roberts, RBG became the voice of reason, progressive causes, and dissent.
She knew the importance of the dissents she became famous for, saying
Dissents speak to a future age. It's not simply to say, 'My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.' But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that's the dissenter's hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.
The only woman on the Court in 2007 after Sandra Day O'Connor retired, RBG issued a scathing dissent in Gonzales v. Carhart, a 5-4 opinion upholding the federal ban on so-called "partial birth abortions." While five of her male colleagues wholeheartedly agreed with the federal government's intrusion into women's healthcare, RBG wrote that the law could not "be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this court and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women's life."
The court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety. This way of thinking reflects ancient notions about women's place in the family and under the Constitution — ideas that have long since been discredited."
This case was, in a lot of ways, the beginning of RBG's burgeoning reputation as the great dissenter of her age. And it was another, very different civil rights case that would would seal it.
The Supreme Court's 2013 Jim Crow decision invalidating the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder is the Plessy v. Ferguson of our time. Until the Voting Rights Act became law, most Black Americans had voting rights in name but not practice. For nearly half a century, it protected minority communities from voter suppression. Shelby County gutted it.
RBG penned a dissent that called out the majority's bullshit for what it was, writing that it was "like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet." She foresaw the damage to voting rights that would happen as a result of the Court's opinion, saying that the majority "can hardly be described as an exemplar of restrained and moderate decisionmaking. Quite the opposite. Hubris is a fit word for today's demolition of the VRA."
When Lilly Ledbetter's case was dismissed by the Supreme Court, it was RBG who penned the dissent begging Congress to take action. When the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, inspired by her dissent, became law in 2009, she hung a framed copy of it on her wall.
When Bill Clinton nominated Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, he called her the "Thurgood Marshall of gender equality law." She certainly lived up to those words.
It is hard not to feel hopeless right now. The world lost a giant yesterday. And dark days lie ahead.
We should all grieve. But we can't give up. This election just became even more important. We can't give up; we have to fight even harder.
It's what RBG would want. And it's how we can honor her legacy.
Grieve. Then organize.
We need to fight like hell.
Like RBG did, her entire life.
Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time
Rest in power.
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