On the eve of Rosh-Hashanah, a day when, in Jewish culture, the dead are given a very special title “Tzadik” (righteous), Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg took her final breath and conveyed a last, hopeful message.
“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,“ Ginsburg said while on her deathbed. That very night, Friday, September 18th 2020, thousands gathered to grieve at the steps of the Supreme Court, leaving flowers in commemoration of Ginsburg’s passing. As the masses mourned, politicians remained divided over whether to honor Ginsburg’s dying wish or find a replacement as soon as possible.
Though Ginsburg failed to live through the entirety of Trump’s term, she has beaten the odds repeatedly.
“There was a senator, I think it was after my pancreatic cancer, who announced, with great glee, that I was going to be dead within six months,” Ginsburg recalled in an interview with NPR prior to her passing. “That senator, whose name I have forgotten, is now himself dead, and I am very much alive.”
Ginsburg, possessing a strong sense of humor, unrivaled intelligence, and tenacious spirit, was a force to be reckoned with. Despite her enduring legacy in equal rights advocacy spanning various areas, multiple individuals mistake her physical frailty and 5’ 1” stature for weakness, an oftentimes regrettable decision. Nicknamed the “Notorious RBG,” Ginsburg’s memory as a cultural icon lives on in books, the RBG documentary from CNN, and everyone’s hearts. As her seat at the Supreme Court patiently waits for its next occupant, the prospect of someone filling Ginsburg’s chair is a seemingly impossible, yet inevitable scenario.
Ginsburg’s far-reaching reputation started from humble beginnings. She was inspired from an early age to become an independent woman capable of creating lasting change.
“My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent,” Ginsburg said in a different interview with NPR.
Though her immediate family and husband supported Ginsburg on her journey to becoming a lawyer, and eventually a Supreme Court Justice, the larger world looked down upon a woman attempting to break societal barriers in the 20th and 21st centuries.
When Ginsburg first entered Harvard Law School, she did so out of “selfish interests.”
“I thought I could do a lawyer’s job better than any other. I have no talent in the arts, but I do write fairly well and analyze problems clearly” she wrote.
However, when she realized how hard it was for women to gain access to the same opportunities as men, her perspective began to change, putting her on track towards building the legacy she is revered for today.
After transferring to Columbia Law School to be closer to her husband, then graduating at the top of her class, Ginsburg was unable to find a job.
“I had three strikes against me, one I was Jewish, two I was a woman, but the killer was I was the mother of a four-year-old child” Ginsburg said in an interview with CBS.
Despite her hardships, Ginsburg described that precise moment as a blessing in disguise.
“I do think that I was born under a very bright star,” Ginsburg said in an NPR interview. “Because if you think about my life, I get out of law school. I have top grades. No law firm in the city of New York will hire me. I ended up teaching; it gave me time to devote to the movement for evening out the rights of women and men.”
Evening out the rights of women and men she did. One of the most prominent examples of this was Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld (1975). During the court proceeding, Ginsburg argued against a provision in the Social Security Act which denied widowed fathers certain benefits given to widowed mothers.
Her social advocacy was not limited to a singular success. During her time at Rutgers University she joined an equal pay campaign for all female teachers and reaped the benefits of a substantial wage increase. Soon after in 1972, Ginsburg had a hand in creating The ACLU Women’s Rights Project which is still widely recognized today as an organization responsible for major political change. The ACLU has won cases ranging from the protection of students’ free speech in 1969 to halting the Trump transgender military ban in 2017.
Due to her extensive credentials as a politically capable public reformer, in 1993 Ginsburg was appointed as the second woman to ever serve on the United States Supreme Court. During her time in the position she argued six prominent cases before the Court and won five in support of gender equality.
Despite Ginsburg’s accomplishments, her poor health (she suffered bouts of lung and colon cancer before passing away due to stage four pancreatic cancer) worried even liberals. Some went so far as to ask her to resign during the Obama administration. Strong-willed and passionate, Ginsburg said in an interview with USA Today “As long as I can do the job full-steam, I would like to stay here. I have to take it year by year at my age, and who knows what could happen next year? Right now, I know I’m OK.” Ginsburg died doing the job she loved because she knew that though her body was suffering, her brain was fully capable of doing the hard work ‘full-steam.’
Feminine, fashion savvy, and extremely powerful, Ginsburg will always be remembered for the ever-lasting impact she made on this world. She has been and will remain an inspiration to the Halloween trick-or-treaters, lawyers, and everyone in between. The person destined to fill her enormous shoes, conservative or liberal, will automatically inherit a cosmic responsibility and sky-high expectations. The government is tasked with selecting Ginsburg’s heir, whether it be this term or the next, who knows strength has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with determination.