The impressive legacy of RBG
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died of pancreatic cancer in her Washington, D.C. home on Friday, September 18th. She was eighty-seven years old and led a most extraordinary life. Growing up middle class in New York City, she strove for excellence from an early age, making it to Cornell University and later Harvard and Columbia Law School. She did all of this during a period where very few women pursued (and even fewer achieved) careers in law.
To make matters even more compelling, she married Martin G. Ginsburg shortly after graduating from Cornell and was already raising her first child while working on her Law Degree. Nevertheless, she tied for top of her class at Columbia and despite all the sexist odds, she eventually landed her first job as a law clerk for the U.S. District Court of Southern New York.
Ginsburg taught at Rutgers Law School for several years in the 1960s before taking a position at Columbia Law in 1972, where she became the first-ever tenured female professor. This would not be the last barrier for Justice Ginsburg to break through.
She channeled much of her intellect towards combatting systemic sexism in America’s legal fabric, co-founding the Women’s Rights Law Reporter journal as well as the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. In 1971, she wrote the brief for Reed v. Reed, which extended the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause to women, and come 1980, President Jimmy Carter nominated her for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals. Here, she gained a reputation for making fair and level decisions alongside both conservative and liberal colleagues.
Nevertheless, R.B.G. was the furthest thing from a pushover, and she continued to fiercely champion women’s rights and gender equality throughout her career. She carried this zealous intensity into her seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, which President Bill Clinton nominated her for in 1993 following Justice Byron White’s retirement.
The second woman to ever serve on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg drew frequent parallels to Justice Thurgood Marshall in the public’s eye—many saying that she achieved for women’s rights what Marshall did for racial equity. In her twenty-seven years on the Court, she fought tirelessly for gender equality, most notably authoring U.S. v. Virginia, 518, which ended the Virginia Military Institute’s male-exclusive admissions policy, and dissenting Ledbetter v. Goodyear, which combatted pay discrimination based on sex. She also advocated for fathers and mothers—as well as husbands and wives—being seen as equally valuable family members in the eyes of the Constitution.
During the Obama Administration, as Justice Ginsburg entered her eighties, many encouraged her to retire so the Democratic president could nominate someone new before the next term. Combatting the odds yet again, she refused to step down.
The Divisive Future Of America’s Supreme Court
Now, in the wake of Ginsburg’s’ passing, America must look forward as politicians try to decide whether or not President Trump should be able to fill her vacant seat before November’s election. Many Democrats are saying that the seat should remain empty until the next term, rationalizing that the Supreme Court Justice is a lifelong position and a President should not be able to nominate someone if they themselves are going to be voted out in just a few weeks.
On the other hand, most Republicans want Trump to fill the seat immediately, citing that he has the Constitutional Right to do so and seeing the vacancy as an opportunity to regain a Republican majority in the Court. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) has already vowed to hold a vote on whoever Trump nominates.
The situation is somewhat the inverse of what happened in 2016, when Republican Justice Antonin Scalia passed away just months before President Obama left office. That time, Republicans filibustered to make sure Obama could not fill Scalia’s seat before the next election. They ultimately achieved this, as the seat remained empty when Trump took office, allowing him to appoint Justice Neil Gorsuch in April 2017.
Now, however, the stakes are even higher, for Gorsuch succeeding Scalia was simply one Republican replacing another. If a Republican nominee takes over Ginsburg’s Democratic seat, then it will create a Republican majority Supreme Court. In the present age where Republicans already have majority control of the Senate and Donald Trump sits in the White House, the Democrat-majority Court is the party’s last line of stability in the system of checks-and-balances.
Given that Election Day is nearly a month away, Ginsburg’s death could be a deciding factor in some voter’s minds. A vacant seat on the Court could compel right-leaning constituents to vote for Trump just for the sake of getting a Republican Justice. Likewise, the process draws attention away from other aspects marring the 2020 Trump campaign— i.e. his lack on initiative when it comes to COVID-19, his denial of climate science amidst California’s inferno, and his dismissive attitude towards present racial tensions in America.
On the Democrats’ side, perhaps the loss of Ginsburg will encourage more people to get out and vote now that more is at stake. If Joe Biden gets to nominate the next Justice, then the Courts will surely keep their Democratic majority, preventing the three branches of government from becoming a conservative hegemony.
Despite her small physical stature, the five-foot tall Ruth Bader Ginsburg left enormous shoes to fill on the U.S. Supreme Court. Regardless of her successor’s political affiliation, it is hard to imagine anyone accomplishing more for this country than the notorious R.B.G. However, we can still hope that her actions, bravery, and tenacity will inspire an entire new generation of politicians and constituents willing to stand up for what is progressive and what is right.
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