Reflections on the legacy of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the nation’s most influential and iconic Supreme Court justices, passed away in her Washington D.C. home on Friday, September 18, at the age of 87. Ginsburg had suffered from a number of health problems throughout the last 20 years of her life, the most recent being pancreatic cancer. Up until this weekend, Ginsburg worked despite many adversities and never let anything hold her back from the job that she loved. Known for her liberal views and eloquent dissents, writer Erin Blakemore wrote that Ginsburg possessed “unwavering beliefs and a taste for compromise.” She continuously fought for the things she was passionate about, such as gender discrimination and enforcing the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. 

Ginsburg was born on March 15, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents were both first-generation Jewish immigrants and often struggled financially. Ginsburg had discussed multiple times the impact that her mother had on her education. Celia Bader had always dreamed of an education but was never given the opportunity. Thus, the importance of education was instilled into Ginsburg from a young age. Unfortunately, her mother passed away the day before Ginsburg’s high school graduation. 

Ginsburg then attended Cornell University for her undergraduate degree in government. There, she met her husband, Marty Ginsburg, and they were married in 1954. Ginsburg’s first job out of Cornell was one that defined her later career. While working for a social security office, she was demoted to a typist because her employer found out she was pregnant. 

Ginsburg continued to face discrimination as she pursued her law degree. She originally began at Harvard University, where she was frequently mocked by professors and questioned as to why she should be in the law program taking up a spot that could have been filled by a man. Ginsburg was one of nine women in a class of over 500. After moving to New York to take care of her husband as he battled cancer, Ginsburg finished her studies at Columbia University, where she tied for first in the class of 1959 and received her Juris Doctor. Due to her sex, she struggled to find a job, even with an advanced law degree. Ginsburg was denied by many firms, clerical positions and teaching opportunities because she was a woman. Rutgers University eventually hired her to teach for their law school, but she was paid significantly less than her male counterparts.

It was while working at Rutgers that Ginsburg took her first steps into gender discrimination law. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) New Jersey branch was representing Sally Reed in the Supreme Court case Reed v. Reed (1971). Reed was trying to become the executor of her son’s estate rather than her ex-husband but was denied on the basis of her gender. This was the first Supreme Court brief that Ginsburg wrote, and the court ruled in favor of the ACLU. Throughout her career, she wrote opinions on more than 300 gender discrimination cases. When reflecting on this case later in life, Ginsburg had said that “the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection applies not just to racial and ethnic minorities but to women as well. The Supreme Court woke up to that reality in 1971.”

It was evident that Ginsburg was a powerhouse. As her name began to buzz around Washington, D.C., she was nominated in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter to the Appellate Court for the District of Columbia Circuit Court. It was in 1993 that President Clinton nominated her to serve on the Supreme Court. From the beginning of her tenure, it was evident that she would be a phenomenal justice, as she was confirmed by the Senate with a 96-3 majority vote. She was only the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court, and the first Jewish woman to do so. When asked in a 2015 interview how she wanted to be remembered, Ginsburg stated, “As someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability, and to help repair tears in her society; to make things better through the use of whatever ability she has.”

In the days after her passing, the nation has mourned Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Now, all eyes are turned to the Senate since President Donald Trump has promised to fill her seat before the November election. In the official statement from the Court, Chief Justice John Roberts made an articulate and earnest statement regarding Ginsburg’s passing, saying: “Our nation lost a justice of historic stature. 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.” If President Trump is able to fill Ginsburg’s seat, this will be the third justice that he will have appointed during his administration. The first was the seat of Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away in January of 2016, during the Obama administration. President Obama had selected Merrick Garland; however, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delayed the Senate confirmation hearing on the basis that it was an election year. McConnell is not following the same course of action for this scenario and is determined to fill Ginsburg’s seat before the election, which is a mere six weeks away. 

Many of Hope’s political science majors and pre-law students have been contemplating and discussing Ginsburg’s legacy since her passing. Freshman Carly Mursch commented on the impact that Ginsburg has had on her life and how she has shaped her intended career path. Mursch stated that she has always wanted to be a lawyer, but has frequently been told that the field of law is only for men. She described Ginsburg as her role model, saying, “[Ginsburg] is everything that I aspire to one day be: a trailblazer for women’s rights and an advocate for those whose voices are silenced.” It is evident that after an illustrious legal career and 27 remarkable years on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has secured her legacy by inspiring generations of Americans to pursue their passions and stand for what they believe in, regardless of what anyone says. 

Alli Mitchell ('22) is a Staff Writer for the Beyond section. She is majoring in Political Science and double minoring in Art History and Environmental Studies. She can usually be found with a cup of coffee in the library or at LJs. On-campus, she is a member of the Alpha Gamma Phi sorority, works in the Biology Department and at Cup and Chaucer, and is involved in the Phelps Scholars Program. In her free time, she enjoys reading, yoga, writing, hammocking, photography, and spending time with friends.

'Reflections on the legacy of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg' has 2 comments

  1. September 23, 2020 @ 2:41 am

    You have made some decent points there. I looked on the net to
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  2. September 23, 2020 @ 4:52 pm Jennifer Mitchell

    Excellent summary of a life so well-lived!


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