Ruth Bader Ginsburg giving the 1992 commencement address to LC's law students
Photo courtesy of Lewis & Clark Law School

Remembering the iconic Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I heard the news of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing while browsing the wine aisle in my local grocery store (oh, the irony). My heart dropped what felt like a hundred stories, and it still has not hit the ground since. Ginsburg was an icon for a reason: she challenged the gendered expectations in her personal life and made it her life’s work to eradicate these same patriarchal standards for other women, so the generations that followed her would not experience the same trials and tribulations. 

Ginsburg was admired by many democratic voters. She was championed for her liberal position on issues surrounding gender equality, reproductive rights and LBGTQ+ rights. Additionally, she preserved Obamacare and defended the disenfranchised, including racial minority groups in cases like Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), and Wagnon v. Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation (2005). Despite her somewhat liberal ideology, she was also respected by conservatives. She was very close friends with conservative fellow Justice Antonin Scalia, as they often attended the opera together. While they almost always wrote opposing opinions in court, Scalia spoke highly of Ginsburg. 

She is “a tigress on civil procedure,” Scalia said in 2016. “She will take a lawyer who is making a ridiculous argument and just shake him like a dog with a bone. She has done more to shape the law in this field than any other justice on this court.” 

Ginsburg’s scrupulous eye for the law and determination to advocate for disenfranchised groups made her an admired justice regardless of her left leanings. 

Ginsburg passed on Sept. 18, and I feel she has not and will not receive a proper mourning. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in his hunger for political power, is determined to select a new justice before the general election. Even though Ginsburg’s dying wish was to “not be replaced until a new president is installed,” McConnell and President Trump have made it clear that political power and conservatism are paramount to respect and decency. President Trump recently nominated Amy Coney Barrett, a professor at Notre Dame School of Law and a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. In 2015, Barrett signed a statement to Catholic bishops promoting the church’s discriminatory views on sexuality, marriage and abortion. Barrett has been known to criticize stare decisis, a doctrine forcing judges to uphold precedent laws. Citizens have been unable to grieve appropriately because they now fear the threats conservatives are launching towards all the work that Ginsburg accomplished, especially reproductive justice. 

Many leftists have voiced their criticism of the justice since her passing. I will admit that I have not always agreed with Ginsburg’s rulings, particularly her endorsement of placing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline below the Appalachian Trail. However, I often need to remind myself that while Ginsburg was labeled as a liberal judge, she worked within an institution designed to be removed from political opinions and pressures. While I am sure the justice appreciated her liberal supporters, she certainly did not allow their support to govern her readings of the law; and that is exactly how it should be. While American government is overwhelmed by two party politics, the Supreme Court should be a place untouched by political intentions; the question of whether this has been truly accomplished or will continue this way is up to you. 

I think it is appropriate to take this time to grieve, but I also think it is our obligation to channel this grief into action by casting our ballots this November, and encouraging our peers to engage in the political process. I understand that many feel the mantra “we need to vote” is repetitive and belaboring the point, but quite frankly, there has never been a presidential election in U.S. history that was as consequential as the one that approaches us. This could very well be the last free and fair election our country participates in, considering Trump will refuse to leave the Oval Office if he loses the election. More importantly, this could very well be our last chance to preserve the democratic values our country and constitution were created to uphold. If you feel this mantra “belabors the point,” then you are clearly missing the point.

I obviously did not know Ginsburg personally; heck, I have never even been in the same room as her. But I feel confident when I say that this is what she would have wanted: to make our voices heard, to continue holding our lawmakers accountable and to study our laws with an attentive lens. This is what she would have wanted. This is what I want. And I hope this is what you want too.

So I dedicate this article, my three bottles of chardonnay and my continual engagement in politics to the esteemed R.B.G. Rest in power, Ruth.

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