On September 18, various social media apps, especially Instagram, were buzzing with posts dedicated to the disheartening death of former Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Unfortunately, instead of dedicating sufficient time to honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legacy and contribution to women’s rights, people have quickly moved onto the question of what comes next politically? “Who will replace Ginsburg?” “Will Donald Trump be able to choose a third Supreme Court Justice?” “Will a conservative or a liberal take her place?”
The politicization of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has taken away from the person she was: what she stood for throughout her lifetime, the positive change she effectuated, and her life-story. Instead, these political questions have confined her personhood to merely being something — a Supreme Court seat that now needs filling.
The coverage of her death by major news outlets has been especially demonstrative of this politicization. An NPR article reporting Ginsburg’s death began to discuss the political concerns over her passing within the first three short paragraphs. The article reads, “Her death will inevitably set in motion what promises to be a nasty and tumultuous political battle over who will succeed her, and it thrusts the Supreme Court vacancy into the spotlight of the presidential campaign.” It seems that right now, our nation’s focus is on politics over personhood.
Prior to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s role as Supreme Court Justice, she dedicated her life to shattering the metaphorical glass ceiling over women by championing gender equality and advocating for those whose voices went unheard. During the Women’s Rights Movement in the 1960s, Ginsburg was a civil rights attorney whose role in pivotal cases gave women equal constitutional rights and shifted societal perspectives on working women.
Ginsburg was a fervent advocate for institutionalizing the equality of women, from issues like abortion rights to equal pay. According to a commemoratory article from Harvard, Ginsburg “was the chief architect of a campaign against sex-role stereotyping in the law, arguing and winning five landmark Supreme Court cases during the 1970s. These decisions established the principle of equal treatment in the law for women as well as men and banished numerous laws that treated men and women differently based on archaic gender stereotypes.”
These five landmark Supreme Court cases include Ledbetter v. Goodyear, wherein she advocated on behalf of women to eradicate monetary and pay discrimination based on gender. In 2009, Ginsburg fought for equal pay legislation to be enacted. In the case of the United States v. Virginia, Ginsburg pushed for equal treatment and non-discriminatory admission into the work or educational systems.
As a justice, Ginsburg also strongly supported gay marriage and as well as women’s reproductive rights. The contributions detailed here only begin to scratch the surface of the person Ruth Bader Ginsburg was.
Aside from her legal career, Ginsburg’s personal life-story carries just as much significance, hardship, and triumph. She had endured devastating challenges from as early on as high school when her mother passed away days before Ginsburg’s graduation.
In 1956, Ginsburg enrolled at Harvard Law School, defying all odds once again by being one of only nine women in a class of 500 men. All the while, Ginsburg was parenting her two children and caring for her husband, Martin Ginsburg, who was battling cancer. During this time she juggled her schoolwork with taking notes for her husband who was also enrolled at Harvard Law.
Even so early on in her career, Ginsburg already began facing discriminatory challenges on account of her gender. She recalled that the Dean at Harvard Law believed that the nine spaces occupied by her and eight other women were stolen out from under prospective male law students.
This, “series of unfortunate events” that Ginsburg endured, from facing from the death of her mother in her younger years to her husband being diagnosed with cancer while they were both in law school, to the constant negative attention she received from merely being a female, could have easily lead to her to simply give up. However, she used this as her fuel to fight for not only herself or her family name, but also to fight for the rights of others.
Yes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is renowned for her political and legal accomplishments that catalyzed systematic change for the Women’s Rights Movement. Yes, she was a Supreme Court Justice for 27 years. But her story and legacy lay within the person she was, the conversations she had with people, and the core of her benevolent soul, not just her role in politics.