Photo by Amy Gann
September 18th, 2020 marks the death of a legendary figure in modern American politics. Ruth Bader Ginsburg leaves behind a legacy of sex equality, feminist legislature, and unprecedented dissent within the Supreme Court. Her passing has undoubtedly sparked discussion about the future: of America, the Supreme Court, and the ongoing fight for women’s constitutional equity. As we move forward into an uncertain future, we must look to the past, into the life and work of America’s most notorious Supreme Court Justice.
Born March 15th, 1933 in Brooklyn, NY, Ginsburg spent the majority of her young adult life pursuing her career in law, first completing her BA degree at Cornell University, and shortly thereafter finished her MA at Columbia Law. Her schooling concluded in 1959, where she went on to teach civil procedure at Columbia while simultaneously earning herself a clerkship for the Southern District of New York.
Through the 1970s, Ginsburg became a prominent and respected advocate for gender equality within the law and was heavily involved in the creation of the Women’s Rights Project, run by the ACLU. It was only in 1980, however, that Ginsburg’s work for women’s rights was recognized by then-current President, Jimmy Carter. He appointed Ginsburg to the US Court of Appeals, and thirteen years later, was nominated by Bill Clinton for Supreme Court Justice. The decision to appoint her was unanimous. This would establish her as the second woman to ever be appointed to the Supreme Court in the history of the United States.
During her 27 years as Supreme Court Justice, Ginsburg passed a multitude of rulings that have irrevocably impacted sex equality in the United States. Here are a few of the most notable and impactful motions Ginsburg has voted to pass and dissented against:
- United States v. Virginia (1996)
Ginsburg drafted the opinion against maintaining the all-male status of the Virginia Military Institute. It was passed by the majority, marking a significant step into the future of women’s military education and access.
Hobby Lobby, citing religious refusal rights, denied their employees birth control and contraception through their health insurance policy. Ginsburg thoroughly dissented against this decision, claiming the “purpose of extending rights to corporations is to protect the rights of people associated with the corporation,” which included the use of contraception by those employees not limited to religious beliefs.
Ginsburg’s opinion in this case was essential in counteracting discrimination on the basis of mental illness and disability, particularly by the federal government. The ruling limited the requirements for institutionalization and protected the rights of those mentally impaired.
These three cases are just the tip of the massive iceberg that is the work towards equality done by Ginsburg. However, it would be remiss to not acknowledge her history of more moderate decisions that have, arguably, harmed vulnerable communities. For example, in the case of United States Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association, Ginsburg voted with the majority in favor of a massive pipeline that would run under the Appalachian Trail, potentially destroying a national landmark of the indigenous people, furthering the destruction of protected land, and encouraging the use of natural gas in the middle of a global climate crisis, all noted in a statement made by the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Despite this, her history of pragmatic, passionate, and progressive dissents and opinions within the Court has undoubtedly changed the future of American women, and established her as an icon and a beacon of hope in a time of political and social uproar. In life, she was committed to the betterment of women’s representation and protection under the law; in death, she continues to be an inspiration for liberal change, social progression, and disadvantaged groups under the Trump administration. In all, her attitude towards her impressive life and career can be summed up by one statement:
“I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability.”Ruth Bader Ginsburg
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Atlantic Coast Pipeline problems persist despite Supreme Court decision. (2020). Retrieved 26 September 2020, from https://www.southernenvironment.org/news-and-press/news-feed/atlantic-coast-pipeline-problems-persist-despite-supreme-court-decision
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 573 U.S. 682 (2014). (2020). Retrieved 26 September 2020, from https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/573/682/
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UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE ET AL. v. COWPASTURE RIVER PRESERVATION ASSOCIATION. (2020). Retrieved 26 September 2020, from https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/18-1584_igdj.pdf
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