Haley Keizur is a senior media studies major.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a warrior and an advocate for women’s and reproductive rights. She set precedents and made history as the first Jewish woman, and the second woman ever, to serve on the Supreme Court. She was a role model who fought long and hard for justice and through various health issues. She knew what was at stake in our country.
Justice Ginsburg’s passing Sept. 18 has left me heavy-hearted and wracked with emotions — anger, fear, sadness. I woke up from a nap that somber afternoon to see a text from my dad letting me know she had died. I felt paralyzed. I immediately logged onto Twitter to see hundreds mourning her passing and attempting to process what the loss meant for our future. Ginsburg lived an incredible 87 years and spent 27 of those years serving as a Supreme Court justice.
Born Joan Ruth Bader, she grew up in a low-income, working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, and graduated near the top of her class at Cornell University in 1954. In the same year, she married Harvard law student Martin D. Ginsburg. She later enrolled at Harvard Law School, where she was one of nine women in her 500-person class. When her husband was diagnosed with cancer, Ginsburg was left to take care of her young daughter and husband, attend her own law classes, and take notes for her husband’s studies. Ginsburg eventually transferred to Columbia Law School, where she graduated first in her class in 1959.
Despite the numerous counts of gender discrimination Ginsburg faced in her career, she overcame various obstacles and continued to persist in a field dominated by men. She became the first female tenured professor at both Rutgers and Columbia law schools and served as the Women’s Rights Project director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She argued six landmark cases regarding gender equality before the Supreme Court and was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by President Jimmy Carter. By 1993, she was appointed by President Bill Clinton to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, where she diligently served until the day she died.
Despite a few controversial rulings and public statements, Ginsburg was a true voice for many who were voiceless. One of her most notable moments includes her vote on Bush v. Gore. In a 5-4 decision, the majority of the court had ruled that Florida’s Supreme Court decision calling for a statewide vote recount with different ballot-counting standards violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. Ginsburg was among the four justices who had voted for a recount. In her dissent, she deviated from the traditional closing line, “I respectfully dissent,” by concluding with the now-iconic “I dissent.” When she was hospitalized for a benign gallbladder condition, the Supreme Court paved a path for the Trump administration to use religious and moral objections to not comply with the Affordable Care Act’s, also known as “Obamacare,” contraceptive mandate. Ginsburg participated in the oral arguments from her hospital bed. “This Court leaves women workers to fend for themselves, to seek contraceptive coverage from sources other than their employer’s insurer, and, absent another available source of funding, to pay for contraceptive services out of their own pockets,” she wrote in her dissent.
Ginsburg was never willing to retire, refusing to rest after fighting for decades. Her passing reminds us of the incredible flaws in our current political system — the fact that women’s reproductive rights, among other social issues, essentially rested on the shoulders of an 87-year-old woman is appalling. It is also appalling that we can’t mourn the loss of an American hero without fearing what will happen to her empty seat in the Supreme Court. Prior to her death, the Supreme Court had a 5-4 makeup of conservative justices to liberals, and if our current president has his way, the year could end with a 6-3 divide on the court, putting many people’s reproductive rights at risk of being repealed. The threat of Ginsburg’s Donald Trump-appointed replacement is arguably worse than the idea of President Trump being reelected — his election would last us another four years; a new Supreme Court justice would last far longer than a presidential term.
Just an hour after her passing was announced, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed to hold a Senate vote for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, meaning he would try to confirm Trump’s nominee. However, four years earlier, within hours of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in 2016, during the final year of President Obama’s second term, McConnell said, “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, did not even receive a Senate hearing. The hypocrisy is absolutely incredulous.
It’s easy to step back during this time and think the country is screwed, or argue that the administration doesn’t have enough time to choose someone because, unfortunately, if they can, they will. The best way we can honor Ginsburg is by using our voices to stand up for injustices. In the same way that she fought tirelessly for women’s rights, she fought every step of her cancer journey, attempting to hold on until the presidential inauguration in 2021. Take the time to call Republican senators and urge them to postpone the hearing for Trump’s nominee. To honor her legacy, we must also vote and consider future generations, as well as our country’s future and the current crises it faces.
I am comforted by the words of inspiration I have seen spreading rapidly across social media, but we must turn those words into action. Ginsburg’s passing occured on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Book critic Ruth Franklin wrote in a tweet on the day of her death, “According to Jewish tradition, a person who dies on Rosh Hashanah, which began tonight, is a tzaddik, a person of great righteousness.” I can sleep at night knowing that she died at the right time and that her legacy will outlive her. May her memory be a blessing, and may we continue to honor her name by fighting for equal rights.