Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a legendary advocate for women’s rights and gender equality, died on Friday afternoon at the age of 87. But her legacy lives on through us. In a time of great uncertainty and rising challenges throughout the world, we must continue her legacy and fight for our democracy.
Justice Ginsburg was named to the Supreme Court by former President Bill Clinton in 1993. Few know that before she sat on the Supreme Court, she was a professor in our very own community at Rutgers Law School from 1963 to 1972. Her story began when a group of students asked Justice Ginsburg to come teach a course on women and the law.
She accepted and she was one of the few female law professors in the country at the time. Ginsburg credits this experience to pursing her legacy of fighting for women’s rights in American society.
And, of course, her path to practicing law was not easy. While first enrolled at Harvard Law School, she was challenged by its patriarchal environment, where she was only 1 of 8 women in the entire class of 500 students. There, deans would often berate women and tell them they took seats that belonged to rejected male students.
She would later transfer to Columbia Law School where she graduated at the top of her entire class. Her conflicts with misogyny would not end at Harvard Law School, unfortunately. She would be turned down from employment at firms on the basis of being a woman.
These experiences would motivate her to lead the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and its battle against sex discrimination. Ginsburg, along with the director of the ACLU, wrote the amicus brief for Reed v. Reed, where for the first time, the Supreme Court decided that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment also applied to women’s rights.
And of course, in 1993, after serving as the first tenured woman professor of law at Columbia Law School, she would be appointed to the Supreme Court. There, she defended the right of women to get an abortion, ruled against gender discrimination and search and seizure.
While on the court, she wrote the opinion to a case called United States v. Virginia, where the court decided it was unconstitutional for the Virginia Military Institute to continue denying admission to women.
While serving as Justice, Ginsburg lost her husband and fought cancer five different times. To the very end of her life, she continued to serve on the court and no matter how she felt, she would dedicate her time and ultimately her life to what she cared about most, our country.
She shared a close and special relationship with former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, no matter their political differences. Their love of the arts would prove stronger than their politics.
In an age of partisan discord, America is divided going into this election. With George Floyd’s death and Breonna Taylor’s death at the hands of police brutality, we owe it to Justice Ginsburg and to them to continue the fight for a more equal America and redefine our political and economic systems, to include those it has sought to oppress.
Women today are still met with many of the structural problems that Justice Ginsburg encountered in her life. In 2018, white women earned only 85 percent of what a white man would earn. And for Black women, the numbers are even worse.
In 2019 a Black woman would only make 65 percent of what a white man would make. These figures show that the fight for gender and racial equality is not over yet.
Talks of repealing parts or all of Roe v. Wade are commonly heard within our political system, and states are banning abortion, or limiting abortion clinics. This primarily impacts women of color who will face systematic barriers in accessing abortion care.
In Justice Ginsburg’s dissent in the 2014 case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., she argued that restricting women’s access to abortion was dangerous to our democracy.
Justice Ginsburg’s death will leave a vacancy in the Supreme Court. Now, more than ever, it must be critical that we engage with our democracy and vote. Your voice deserves to be heard and respected, and while American democracy has its structural problems, this is no excuse not to vote.
Just as Justice Ginsburg defended our democratic values and tradition, so too must we honor her legacy come Nov. 3 and vote.
Steven Ferrales is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science and philosophy.
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