RBG: A Lifelong Fight for Justice
Brooke Berardo '24
As the election draws nearer and tensions between the Democrats and Republicans are higher than ever, the death of one of America’s key governmental figures has rocked the political landscape. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court with a fierce commitment to all things equal, recently passed on September 18 at age 87 due to complications in her previously diagnosed pancreatic cancer.
After her funeral ceremony inside the court, Ginsburg’s coffin was moved to the court’s portico for two days of public viewing. On September 25, Ginsburg was moved to lie in the United States Capitol as the first woman to receive such an honor.
Her powerful opinions and passionate advocacy for women's rights solidified her as a cultural icon. Born in Brooklyn, New York on March 15, 1933, Ginsburg attended Cornell University, later enrolling in Harvard Law School. Beginning her career as a professor at Columbia Law school, Ginsburg soon made her way to the United States Court of Appeals, and then to the Supreme Court in 1993. There, she would make an impact that would span generations, as she consistently fought for equality, freedom, and justice no matter the circumstances.
Some of Ginsburg’s accomplishments include winning landmark cases against gender stereotyping in the law, writing numerous influential dissenting opinions, and co-founding the first law journal on women’s rights as well as the Women’s Rights Project at ACLU. By defying boundaries throughout her career, Ginsburg forged the way for future women in the law.
In her first Supreme Court brief in 1971 during the case of Reed v. Reed, the constitutional issue at play was whether a state could automatically prefer men over women as executors of estates. The all-male Supreme Court sided with Ginsburg, marking the first time the court had struck down a state law due to gender discrimination.
Regardless of one’s political stance, there’s no question that she was a trailblazer. With SNL tributes and masses of her current and former clerks flocking to her funeral to pay respects, it is evident that the whole nation has felt this loss. There have been candlelit vigils and marches around the country in memory of Ginsburg. The New York Historical Society is launching an exhibit to honor her next fall that is said to feature “archival photographs and documents, historical artifacts, contemporary art, media stations, and interactive elements.”
Ginsburg’s absence has thrown the Supreme Court and both sides of the election into chaos after President Donald Trump recently chose his nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, to fill the open spot. In 2016, the Republican-majority Senate refused to hold hearings for former president Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, claiming that it was wrong to nominate a new judge in an election year. Due to the conflicting statements from the Republican party, the Democratic party has denounced holding hearings for the time being. In some reports, it has been said that Ginsburg told her granddaughter Clara Spera that her “most fervent wish is that [she] will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
Despite this, the Senate Judiciary Committee began hearings on October 12, with the vote set to be held on October 22. There have only ever been two justices confirmed this quickly in United States history.
The process of nominating a new justice can be complicated. After the President announces a nomination, the Senate Judiciary Committee begins the vetting process, in which they conduct background and qualification checks. The lag between a President’s nomination and the Senate receiving such nominations can vary, but ultimately leads to a series of hearings in which senators can ask the nominee about their credentials and experience. The committee then relays the nomination to the Senate for a vote.
Vice President Mike Pence is confident in their nominee, stating that he and the President “truly do believe that Judge Barrett represents the best of America personally, in terms of her great intellect and her great background.” Pence also stated that “as the American people learn more about Judge Amy Coney Barrett, they will be as inspired as [Trump] was when he made her nomination.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also praised Barrett while trying to quicken the nomination process, stating “Americans deserve brilliant judges with first-rate legal minds. Judge Barrett is that and then some.” According to a questionnaire answered by Barrett leading up to her nomination, Trump contacted Barrett the day after Justice Ginsburg’s death and offered her the nomination two days later.
Trump has made Barrett’s nomination a key point in the election this year, claiming that a complete Supreme Court would be necessary to decide the election results. The Democratic party has repeatedly called for Barrett to recuse herself of any election-related cases, yet Barrett has not done so.
Others have brought up concerns regarding the safety of these events. As the pandemic continues to loom over this country, gathering in large groups is still not advisable, so holding hearings and voting on the nomination could only aid in spreading the virus.
Meanwhile, Chief Justice John Roberts opened a new term for the Supreme Court on October 5, honoring Ginsburg while doing so. Roberts says “We at the Court will remember [Justice Ginsburg] as a dear friend and a treasured colleague,” and states that “Today we mourn, but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her: a tireless and resolute champion of justice.”
Many lawyers and clerks claim that this won’t be an ordinary term due to Ginsburg’s death and the resulting confirmation battle that now casts the Supreme Court in the spotlight. This spotlight only burns brighter as Trump continues to assert the notion that the election will be determined by the courts and his nominee in particular.