What RBG Meant To Me
Illustration by Katherine Polk, Contributing Artist.
I’ve never really written an obituary before, nor a eulogy for that matter, so bear with me. Though I’m sure my words won’t do her justice, she deserves it. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is worth me struggling to put pen to paper.
Born Joan Ruth Bader in Brooklyn in 1933, she began a long career in law after graduating at the top of her class at Cornell University and at Columbia University Law School. Ruth was only one of nine women in her class of five hundred law students at Harvard Law. She also served as the first woman on the Harvard Law Review, all while caring for and teaching her sick husband and taking care of her young daughter. She transferred to Columbia after her husband got a job in New York City.
Ginsburg taught at Rutgers University and Columbia before heading up the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union during the 1970s. In this position, Ginsburg fought for gender equality and against sex-based discrimination. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter nominated her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated her for the Supreme Court. She was confirmed to the Court by a Senate vote of 96-3.
To me, she was legendary. Her 5’1” stature and soft but unwavering voice proved to me that you don’t have to be the tallest or the loudest person in the room to get your point across. She defied every expectation ever thrust at her and beat every obstacle. She was told she wasn’t fit for law school, but she went anyway. She was told that there was no way she could handle an ill husband and a newborn baby all while keeping up with her studies, but she did. She was rejected from every major law firm in New York City despite graduating first in her law school class, but she persisted, and over the course of her law career argued in front of the Supreme Court six times. She fiercely battled bouts of colon, pancreatic, and lung cancer while continuing her work on the Supreme Court.
In a statement released shortly after Ginsburg’s death, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “By her learning she taught devotion to the law. By her dignity she taught respect for others and her love for America. By her reverence for the Constitution, she taught us to preserve it to secure our freedom.” Justice Ginsburg taught me just that and so much more. The “Notorious RBG” was a fiery and fierce defender of what she believed, and her dissents were magical. Shelby County v. Holder, what a piece of writing! In this landmark case about voting rights, RBG firmly defended the Voting Rights Act and the power of Congress to enforce it. While the majority claimed that the days of discrimination were behind us, Justice Ginsburg disagreed. To her, our union may not have been perfect, but it was worth fighting for. In her dissent, she described a better future for us all, a future that she fought for on the Court, as a lawyer, and as a woman.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was someone who I looked up to, who guided me and inspired me. The night of her death was hard for me. I lost an icon, an inspiration, a person who I always knew was out there fighting for me. I lost a role model. Friends, regardless of political belief, reached out to me, knowing that I had lost such an important figure in my life. She was more than a lawyer, more than a judge. She was an embodiment of wisdom, dignity, and grace on the Court. Though it’s hard to keep fighting sometimes, Ruth never stopped. She pushed on, and so will we. Regardless of what happens now, we will all keep fighting. She would want it that way.
“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”