On September 18, the first night of Rosh Hashanah, we mourned the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She passed away surrounded by family in her Washington home at the age of 87.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg never stopped fighting. As a lawyer, she won major civil rights victories. As the second woman on the Supreme Court, she wrote decisions and dissents that have repercussions to this day.
The notorious RBG was born in Brooklyn, New York on March 15, 1933. She was raised Jewish from birth, becoming the camp rabbi for her summer camp at age 13. She was a good student, spending hours at a time poring over books in the library. However, her childhood was not without tragedy. Ginsburg’s mother, who had helped her throughout her middle- and high-school years, lost her battle with cancer the day before her daughter’s high school graduation. RBG would go on to attend Cornell, Harvard, and Columbia University before joining the American Civil Liberties Union in 1972.
Ginsburg’s work in the field of women’s rights advocacy cannot be understated. She founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1972 and was its general counsel by 1973. By 1974, the project had participated in more than three hundred gender discrimination cases. As the director of the project, RBG argued six cases in front of the Supreme Court, winning five. These cases won a multitude of rights, including an end to sex based discrimination. Despite being called the Women’s Rights Project, RBG would often advocate for male plaintiffs, demonstrating that gender discrimination affects everyone.
After an illustrious career as a DC Circuit judge, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court by Bill Clinton. After taking her seat on the highest court in the land, Ginsburg made good trouble. When Sandra Day O’Connor stepped down and left Ginsburg the sole woman on the court, she adopted her now infamous practice of reading scathing dissents from the bench, a practice that Justice Sotomayor would emulate after her appointment in 2009. Ginsburg penned important dissents such as Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. This case involved a woman who had been repeatedly denied raises because of her gender. However, the court ruled 5-4 that the complaints of discrimination were not valid because they weren’t filed in a timely manner. RBG read her dissent from the bench, stating that the Civil Rights Act’s 180 day time limit shouldn’t apply here because “A worker knows immediately if she is denied a promotion or transfer,” said Ginsburg. “Compensation disparities, in contrast, are often hidden from sight.”
Throughout all of this, RBG struggled against oppressive systems. While she was at Harvard Law School, one of only nine women, the dean asked her, “Why are you here, taking the place of a man?” When her husband, Marty Ginsburg, got a job in NYC, Ginsburg transferred to Columbia, causing her to be the first woman to be published in two major law reviews. After Marty was diagnosed with cancer, RBG took care of a baby, wrote his legal briefs, did her schooling, and still managed to get published in the Harvard Legal Review. Nevertheless, she persisted.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s last wish was clear; that she not be replaced until after the election. Her dying wish has sparked controversy across the country. However, Senator Mitch McConnell made clear his disregard for these wishes when, not 24 hours after Ginsburg’s death, he posted an announcement to his social media. In this, he stated that “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,” a direct contradiction to Ginsburg’s last wishes.
The woman President Trump has nominated to fill Ginsburg’s seat, Amy Coney Barrett, is in many ways a product of what Ginsburg accomplished. She went to college, graduated from law school, and is only able to work in law because of the precedents Ginsburg fought for throughout her career. Barrett is ultra-conservative, pro-life, against marriage equality, against contraceptive access for all women, and against the Affordable Care Act. She is also a member of the People of Praise, a far-right Catholic group that has raised controversy over the years for limiting the independence of its members and advocating that women “submit to their husbands1.” This group is highly secretive and its inner workings remain shrouded in secrecy.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was much more than what she accomplished. She was resourceful, witty, resilient, intelligent, and compassionate; a model of how to succeed and how to be an activist in a system designed to stop both. She was so emblematic of what American values should be that many are taking to social media to espouse hopelessness about the Supreme Court without her. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a role model to many American Jews, including myself. Shanna Tovah, Ruth. You’re with Marty now.