Beacon Press Authors Remember Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
September 29, 2020
We were hoping Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would hold out through November. After serving twenty-seven years on the nation’s highest court, she passed away on September 18. She was eighty-seven. A legal, cultural, and feminist icon and champion of gender equality, she was an inspiration, a bastion of strength and courage. We asked some of our authors to reflect on her legacy and share their remembrances here.
“FROM THE PERSONAL . . .
Justice Ginsburg showed that size doesn’t matter. Just over five feet tall, she proved that true stature does not need to come in a six-foot-tall, loud, male package. Her legacy is historic. She wielded incredible power through her words and deeds. As someone who has been routinely underestimated due to my size and gender, this is especially meaningful. She was also inspiring to older women, including my mother and her friends, proving that you can work out and do planks well into your eighties.
She also exemplified persistence, arguing numerous cases before the Supreme Court, through which she built a path toward gender equality, step by step. As only the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court, she knew that “women belong in all the places decisions are being made . . .”
. . . TO THE POLITICAL
Which brings me to health reform. Her now famous statement that “women belong in all the places decisions are being made” is one of my all-time favorite quotes. I included it in my book as the lead-in to the chapter on health reform solutions. I, too, have seen that we cannot have true fairness in our policies if women are not at the table, in seats of power where they can decide or strongly influence the outcome. Decades ago, Ruth paved the way for this to happen. And health reform proves the point. Justice Ginsburg MUST be replaced with someone who will protect the ACA, as well as a woman’s right to choose whether or not she has a child.
Losing Ruth Bader Ginsburg at this critical moment threatens so many of the issues she fought for. In this fall’s election, we have to fight for her legacy, and our own lives. She deserves no less.”
—Rosemarie Day, Marching Toward Coverage: How Women Can Lead the Fight for Universal Health Care
“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (aka the ‘Notorious RBG’), taught the world that women’s rights were human rights. She believed that discrimination against women harmed everyone—not just women, but also men, children, families, the economy, and the larger society. As a lawyer for the ACLU in the 1970s, she regularly convinced the nine men on the Supreme Court to see discrimination that way, too. She then served on that Court for twenty-seven years, helping to shape the law through her own opinions. But for me personally—as for many other women in law—her greatest impact was to open the door of the mostly-male legal profession to all the women that have followed in her footsteps.”
—Amanda Frost, You Are Not American: Citizenship Stripping from Dred Scott to the Dreamers
“So many thoughts swirl following Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing; some I have written down, some I have yet to write. The first was a paean to her and her influence on my generation of women lawyers. She was all I wanted to be, as I said in a Washington Post op-ed. She put her considerable legal skills at the service of social change and was successful beyond her wildest expectations. She conceived of an expansive and robust view of equality, where men and women would be freed from the stereotypes that trapped them. She applied her vision to her litigation, spoke about it in her speeches, used it in her teaching and then embodied it in her judging. At the same time, I feel an overarching sense of peril—for the rights that my generation of women won over the course of forty years, the right to choose abortion first and foremost. Justice Ginsburg viewed reproductive rights as part of a skein of rights, each dependent upon the other. In situating abortion squarely in the fight for women’s equality, she tried to reframe the debate. Not about competing interests (fetal life vs. a woman’s rights), not just about abortion, but also birth control. If a woman cannot choose when or if to be a mother, no other protections mater. And I feel rage—flat-out rage (at who? The Divine?)—that she could not have lasted just few months longer, that the Republicans, by rushing through a Ginsburg replacement—as if they could—are dancing on her grave. This beyond the trope: elections have consequences. The Court the latest nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, may join has a fundamentally premodern view of American democracy, hearkening back to the years before the New Deal. Then I swing back to profound gratitude for knowing her at all.
In 2014, I gave the Ruth Bader Ginsburg lecture for the New York City Bar Association. I ended by quoting a speech of Jill Ruckelshaus, a founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, in the 1970s:
‘We are in for a very, very long haul . . . . I am asking for everything you have to give. We will never give up . . . You will lose your youth, your sleep, your arches, your patience, your sense of humor, and occasionally . . . the understanding and support of the people you love very much. In return, I have nothing to offer you but . . . your pride in being a woman, all your dreams you’ve have had for your daughters, your future and the certain knowledge that at the end of your days you will be able to look back and say that once in your life you gave everything you had for justice.’
“And I turned directly to the Justice and said, ‘Justice Ginsburg, in all of the roles you have played, role model, advocate, judge, justice, one thing is clear. You gave everything you had for justice.’”
—Nancy Gertner, In Defense of Women: Memoirs of an Unrepentant Advocate
“First and foremost, I will remember Justice Ginsburg with gratitude for her pathbreaking work in creating, as legal scholar Linda Greenhouse has put it, ‘a new jurisprudence of sex equality’—work that has changed the life possibilities for millions of Americans. But I will also remember her for her extraordinary deftness at combining the roles of brilliant and highly respected Supreme Court Justice and popular culture icon. I will never forget the moment when asked how she felt about her new identity as the ‘Notorious RBG,’ a name clearly based on the rapper The Notorious B.I.G., she calmly answered, ‘Well, we have something very important in common—we were both born in Brooklyn.’ Or, how she, a well-known lover of opera, actually agreed to act in one! By agreeing to be such an icon, while never sacrificing her dignity, this octogenarian reached countless people, of all ages, and inspired them with a vision of gender equality.”
—Carole Joffe, Dispatches from Abortion Wars: The Costs of Fanaticism to Doctors, Patients, and the Rest of Us
“The last public event I attended was in February at Union Theological Seminary in New York where Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave the annual Women of Spirit lecture. It was evident then that her health was fragile, but it was also clear that her mind was not! Listening to her wisdom in the twilight of her life was a gift and a blessing. As we remember her legacy and consider the fight that is brewing over her replacement, I believe her own words offer us all something important to remember about the power of the Court. She said, ‘The Court is a reactive institution. If the people don’t care, nothing will change.’ Her legacy is also our responsibility to support and to defend.”
—Rebecca Todd Peters, Trust Women: A Progressive Christian Argument for Reproductive Justice
“Ruth Bader Ginsburg worked tirelessly for justice and equality, with a humility and strength that has inspired me and countless others. As a personal remembrance, Justice Ginsburg generously wrote the foreword to one of my books, a judicial biography. Judge Richard S. Arnold, she wrote, was ‘ever mindful of the people law exists to serve.’ She recognized this value in others, because it was so much a part of her judicial work. She best served people, as she put it, by helping ‘repair tears in her society, to make things a little better.’ Justice Ginsburg leaves an incredible legacy and the inspiration to continue to fight for justice and equality.”
—Polly Price, Plagues in the Nation (forthcoming)
“The death of Justice Ginsburg has been simply crushing, for all the obvious reasons. The work of pioneering advocates like Ginsburg was what inspired me to go to law school in the first place, and her most famous accomplishments are so well-known that I do not have to repeat them here. Instead, I'll write something that may be fairly unpopular: I was never a fan of the ‘Notorious RBG’ nickname. For one thing, RBG was a liberal incrementalist; she was not a radical judge (if such a thing can even exist). But more importantly, I always felt this nickname diminished her—it reduced her to a symbol, an inoffensive logo to slap on a tote-bag or t-shirt. Yet RBG was more than a symbol, more than a logo, more, even, than a judge. She was, at her best, a clear-eyed and incisive and inclusive activist, one who never failed to credit Pauli Murray and Dorothy Kenyon for the legal theories on which she drew. As an advocate, Ginsburg challenged the death penalty, forced sterilization, and racially disparate sentencing, in addition to her well-known fights for gender equality. So many of us have benefited from her advocacy. The movement of which she was a part continues to embolden and inspire me, even in our dystopian present.”
—Scott W. Stern, The Trials of Nina McCall: Sex, Surveillance, and the Decades-Long Government Plan to Imprison “Promiscuous” Women