Feature

The Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

By Craig Papajohn-Shaw

Volume 1 Issue 6

March 18, 2021

The Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Image provided by The New Yorker

Notorious Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG): unstoppable, strategic, dissenting, iconic. The death of late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg came to a shock to many in late September after losing her battle with pancreatic cancer. Ginsburg, beloved by many, was notable for fighting for gender equality and for her feminist qualities prior and during her tenure on the Supreme Court.


Prior to her term on the court, she overcame adversities to her gender. When she attended Harvard Law, she was one of nine women in classes consisting of 500 students. However, Ginsburg would not graduate from Harvard Law. Her husband, Martin, graduated from Harvard a year sooner and was offered a job at a law firm in New York City. With Ginsburg still having a year yet to receive her degree, she requested her credits be transferred to Columbia University, which would allow her to graduate with a Harvard Degree. The request was not granted, but she would still graduate top of her class from Colombia. Her past experiences defined her and contributed to the role she would play as both a lawyer and a judge.


In 1980, President Jimmy Carter (D-GA) appointed Ginsburg to the United State Appeals for the District of Columbia. Serving for 13 years, President Bill Clinton (D-AR) would then appoint her to the Supreme Court as only the second female Justice (after Sandra Day O’Connor). President Joe Biden (D-DE) chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time of Justice Ginsburg’s nomination, rallying his colleagues to support her nomination to the Supreme Court. When she joined the court, she was known as the “consensus builder,” having a moderate ideology. However, as time progressed and the political landscape of the country changed, she became known as one of the most, if not the most, liberal Justices on the court, even though her views on the law did not change. Ginsburg did not let her liberal ideologies stand in the way of her relationship with conservative Justices such as Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Scalia. In Ginsburg’s and Scalia’s joint appearance in 2015, Scalia jokingly stated, “Call us the odd couple. She likes opera, and she is a very nice person. What is not to like? Except her views on the law.” The ideological opposites attracted and contributed to the civil dynamic on the most prestigious court in the country.


Ginsburg’s career epitomizes the idea of equality for all citizens and her views on the law played a crucial role in several landmark decisions. First displayed in her majority opinion in United States v. Virginia, Ginsburg stated the decision that the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) male-only admissions policy was unconstitutional in 1996. Furthering on her views of equal treatment and opportunity for all, the 2015 Supreme Court Case Obergefell v. Hodges decided the fate of legalizing gay marriage on a federal level; she joined the majority opinion of the court. In the controversial 5-4 decision, the opinion of the court claimed that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees the right to marry as one of the foundational liberties it protects.


In memory of Ginsburg, a six-foot bronze statue was unveiled on March 15th outside 445 Albee Square in Downtown Brooklyn's City Point in New York City. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams (D-NY) tweeted on that day: “Ruth Bader Ginsburg dedicated her life to breaking down barriers and making our country a more equitable place. Her powerful example has inspired New Yorkers of all generations, and this new statue will ensure her legacy lives on for generations.” Ginsburg challenged laws that discriminated on the basis of sex, and while the door to her composing decisions on the court has closed, the precedents Ginsburg set have changed the course of history, and those doors will forever remain open.