Graphic by MORGAN GUST
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, passed away on Sept.18 from metastatic cancer of the pancreas. In her 87 years of life, Ginsburg was a trailblazer for gender equality.
“I was shocked, but not surprised,” said Claire Wittlieff (‘24), who noted Ginsburg’s declining health.
“When I opened up Twitter (I follow a lot of historians and legal scholars), I was struck at first by their overwhelming grief at her loss, and then their concern about what her absence on the Court would mean for issues of gender equality and other important issues,” said Professor of History Kristen Olbertson.
Because of the severity of her health, Ginsburg said just before she passed that her fervent wish was that the Senate wait until after a new president is installed to fill her seat on the Supreme Court.
Her untimely death, just 45 days before the Presidential Election, brings up many consequences for the court. Ginsburg was the lead liberal seat of the Supreme Court and without her presence, the seat may be filled instead by a Republican.
When Former Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016 under President Barack Obama, this also sparked a debate within the Senate.
“It has already been announced that [President] Donald Trump is nominating Amy Coney Barrett for Justice Ginsburg’s seat,” said Olbertson. “I expect the Senate to confirm Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court, despite the fact that in 2016, Senate Republicans refused to hold confirmation hearings for Obama-nominated Judge Merrick Garland, claiming it was improper to do so in an election year.”
Olbertson also added that Justice Ginsburg’s influence on law and the American society as a whole has been “undeniable.”
“I think there [are] definitely some people that don’t realize what she’s accomplished in both her law and judicial career,” said Wittlieff.
Ginsburg’s mother was a big proponent for women being independent and going after what they wanted professionally. Ginsburg herself graduated from Harvard Law School at the top of her class but was turned away from multiple law firms post-graduation because she was a woman.
“Throughout her entire career, she remained dedicated to the idea that the Constitution guaranteed every person equality under the law, regardless of their gender,” said Olbertson.
Ginsburg’s work as a litigator and as a Supreme Court Justice helped advocate for greater gender equality in a plethora of aspects. Ginsburg pushed for gender equality in social security and wages, as well as in marriages for gay men and women. Because of Ginsburg, women can also have a mortgage or open a bank account without needing male approval. These are just a few examples of rights that are relevant due to her influence.
Though she pioneered for gender equality, Ginsburg has been criticized in the past for being compliant to issues relating to the treatment and equality of minority groups. She was criticized for not joining Justice Sonya Sotomayor’s endorsement of the Black Lives Matter movement and for not being knowledgeable in matters of tribal sovereignty.
“I think the important thing about both of these issues is that she kept learning and adapting,” said Olbertson. “As brilliant as she was, she obviously didn’t know everything–and when she got feedback, she took it in, she considered it, and she incorporated it into her thinking.”
Just this summer, Ginsburg joined the majority in the McGirt v. Oklahoma case, which was a major victory for indigenous rights.
“There are some viewpoints and opinions she had that not everyone agrees with, but you have to give her some form of credit,” said Wifflieff.
Justice Ginsburg spent the majority of her life pining for gender equality, and her memory will live on in all the judicial changes that came about because of her.