Jamison Guice, Campus Carrier features editor
Zander Carver, Campus Carrier asst. features editor
Known to younger audiences as the “Notorious R.B.G.,” Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg died Sept. 18 due to complications with metastatic pancreatic cancer. An inspiration to many millennials and generation Z for progressive political reforms, Ginsberg became famous by advocating for historically oppressed and overlooked voices. While new generations may have only recently heard of her monumental dissents, Biography.com states Ginsberg was first appointed and confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Then, President Bill Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court in 1993.
According to Biography.com, Ginsberg often focused on reproductive rights, same-sex marriage and immigration while serving in court. No stranger to adversity, Ginsberg was the second woman appointed to the court. Known to the majority for her work on reproductive rights, Ginsberg used her time in court to ensure the civil rights movement was first and foremost.
Associate professor of political science Michael Bailey said her actions made sure the Constitution protected the most vulnerable. He said her position as a watchdog was important, as there is often a gap between the ideals people claim to follow versus the reality. As a watchdog, Ginsberg would hold a mirror up to America’s standards when they were not being applied across the board.
“So, you have to have people who are willing to point out the gap between our rhetoric on the one hand and our reality on the other hand, and sometimes that has to be in the court because the people whose voices are not heard or those who are not able to send representatives are not able to contribute or have a say in government by making donations,” Bailey said. “So, really, the Court is the last refuge for minorities of all sorts, not just racial minorities, but people who may be forgotten in other respects, with their beliefs or their religion.”
A litigator at heart, Ginsberg built support by typically handling easier cases to build precedents, a reported opinion or legal rule, to get the public accustomed to a particular principle.
“So, she would argue, for example, on behalf of a male caregiver who was told by law that as a male you didn’t have certain kinds of benefits,” Bailey said. “And she said, now that everyone can be a caregiver and, therefore, you should not discriminate against this male. So, she created this groundwork by defending this male for gender equality on that particular issue.”
While she did help set majority decisions in plenty of cases, Ginsberg became a cultural icon when using dissenting court rhetoric against majority opinions, Bailey said. In 2000, Ginsberg objected to the Supreme Court’s final decision in Bush v. Gore to reverse Florida’s electoral votes and give the state’s votes, and the presidency, to George W. Bush. Instead of saying “I respectfully dissent,” Ginsberg simply said, “I dissent.” Bailey suggests Ginsberg’s dissension became iconic because she was no longer focused on political alliances or coalitions.
“But when she was speaking and dissenting against the decision, she sort of pulled out all the stops,” Bailey said. “Her rhetoric was much more fiery and feisty and cutting, even sometimes a service.”
Associate professor of government Eric Sands also mentions the 2007 Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. case because of Ginsberg’s memorable contribution. According to oyez.org, the female plaintiff filed lawsuit for equal pay on the basis of gender discrimination. Ginsberg argued the plaintiff should be able to file a lawsuit against the employer, regardless of time passed. This case lead to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 which made it easier for employees to win pay discrimination cases, according to oyez.org.
Even though many viewed Ginsberg as progressive, she did not let that title hold her back from reaching across the aisle when in court. For example, Ginsberg had a unique friendship with Associate justice Antonin Scalia.
“That was her best friend on the court,” Sands said. “They went to the opera together. They did Christmases together, they had outings together and went out to dinner. They were on polar opposite extremes of the court, Scalia was a strict constructionist, Ginsburg was a progressive interpreter of the Constitution, so they couldn’t have been further apart in their approach to law and to their interpretation of the Constitution. And yet they had a deep and respectful and abiding friendship, and I think there’s something we can learn from that in a highly divisive nation.”
Ginsberg left a long legacy, and Bailey said she may have left a few life lessons behind. First, no matter who you are, your voice counts. Second, you have the right and obligation to speak up for yourself and your interests, and for the cause of justice.
“I think she’s worth remembering because of her attitude and acknowledgement that it’s not enough to take pride in our ideals if we don’t live them out,” Bailey said. “That to actually live out those ideals, it requires a lifetime or lifetimes of work.”
An inspiration to many, Sands said her dedication to her work is just one of the many reasons why she will be remembered.
“She managed to do all of her advocacy and all of her activism while being married and having kids so she, you know, had a family and was raising children while she was doing all of this stuff, which I think is pretty aspirational in its own right, but she was also an eminently classy woman,” Sands said. “She was not prone to crass statements, every once in a while, something would leak out but, for the most part, she always conducted herself with a great degree of dignity and advocated her positions with grace and humility.”
Ginsberg was a political trailblazer who held many titles, her last one includes being the first Jewish woman to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol. Other court members and political figures, like President Donald Trump, paid their respects.
Looking toward the future, Ginsburg’s seat has not yet been filled. However, President Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett on Sept. 26. Due to her historically “right side of the aisle” rulings, younger generations, liberals and democrats seem to oppose the nomination. With the presidential election looming, even though Americans do not vote for a Supreme Court Justice, some argue that nominating and confirming one in haste does not take into regard public opinion since the public is currently focused eleswhere.
For example, Viking Fusion posted the poll “Do you think Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court should be filled before or after the 2020 presidential election?,” on various social media platforms to recieve Berry community feedback. Of the 219 participants that responded on Instagram, only 26 percent voted before while 74 percent voted after. In comparison, out of 38 participants on Twitter, 37 percent voted before while 63 percent voted after. So, it seems that while some of the votes were close, parties still remain divided.