The passing of a legal titan
On the 18th of September, 2020, the world lost a brilliant mind, a trailblazing judge that paved the way for the fight for gender equality. In her later years, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or the Notorious RBG as she is also known, became a pop culture icon and achieved global recognition for her accomplishments. Writer for The Atlantic, Dhalia Lithwick, described Justice Ginsburg’s rise to notoriety well when she wrote:
As a feminist icon and inspiration, Justice Ginsburg did not disappoint. Her fight for all humans to be perceived as equals helped to reshape the financial freedom of women across America, and subsequently, the wider Western world. The weight of her loss was felt around the globe, by women of all ages, creeds, and sexual orientation. Such was (and is) the testament of her legacy.
Let’s take a look back at the remarkable life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
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Challenging gender norms
Justice Ginsburg learnt from her early years in law school that men and women were not created equal. She once recalled a moment when the dean of Harvard, Erwin Griswald, asked the female students after a dinner, “what we were doing at the law school, occupying a seat that could be held by a man”. Justice Ginsberg later defended his comments insisting that he used their answers and comments to justify female students to the board and distinguished alumni, who were not convinced that women should be at Harvard.
Nonetheless, RBG was born into a world that made it abundantly clear that women were inferior to men. This was evident in the realm of education, positions of power and basic human rights. RBG overcame these obstacles while championing for equality as a lawyer, judge and Supreme Court Justice.
As one of only nine female students in her year at law school, she later experienced extreme gender discrimination when trying to get a job after graduation in New York.
Having experienced first hand the oppression of a male-dominated world, RBG knew that she had to be deliberate and strategic in her battle to challenge gender norms and quash the associated stereotypes.
As she chipped away at small cases which may have initially benefited men, she was setting a legal precedent for gender equality. In time, she would use these to make monumental shifts in women’s rights and their financial freedom.
— David Beard (@dabeard) September 23, 2020
Landmark case wins
During her tenure as general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) RBG became one of the greatest champions of gender-based equality, fighting over 300 gender discrimination cases.
The first case she took to the Supreme Court was to argue that plaintiff Air Force Lt. Sharron Frontiero, was entitled to the same rights as a male soldier in the Air Force. Frontiero’s husband Joseph had to prove that Sharron provided half of their economic income to claim housing and medical benefits. However, male soldiers did not have to prove the weight of their economic contribution to their female dependents. RBG won this monumental case, helping to establish women as growing financial contributors to modern society.
With the cases that ensued, the founding principles of what she fought for remained the same. That is to prove that, in her own words,
As only the second female appointed Supreme Court Justice, RBG lived to see two more women appointed beside her. When asked at Georgetown University in 2015 on the gender balance in the Supreme Court she replied, “People ask me sometimes, ‘When do you think there will be enough? When will there be enough women on the court?’
“And my answer is when there are nine. People are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”
Ramifications of her passing
As we inch ever closer to the US election, the death of a Supreme Court Justice has the potential to further exacerbate tensions in America. President Donald Trump has stated that he will announce his nominee on September 26 before the nation heads to the polls and despite RBG’s final wishes.
Ultimately, this could be a very real opportunity to shape the Supreme Court to have a conservative majority, a promise Trump made before his election in 2016. Senior Fellow and Advisor at the US Studies Centre, University of Sydney, explained why the Supreme Court is a vital pillar of Government:
“As the third branch of government in the US, the Supreme Court not only keeps the powers of the other two branches (the legislative and executive) in check, it makes landmark decisions that can fundamentally transform the country, such as its 1954 ruling that the segregation of public schools was unconstitutional.”
How her legacy will live on
Regardless of how this upcoming election will be impacted, the loss of RBG has reverberated across the world. Her work, determination, and unbridled fight for equality and justice will be remembered forever. She has created opportunities and given women a chance to carve their own paths. We may still have a way to go in the battle for gender equality, but strong women such as Justice Ginsburg will continue to inspire us for generations to come.
During the course of her career, RBG fought relentlessly to change the way gender roles were perceived, which allowed, among other freedoms, financial independence for women. Liz Skinner wrote, “She’s credited with helping to tear down the network of laws that acted to discourage female financial strength and independence, giving women access to saving, spending and investment vehicles, not to mention jobs — and being able to return to jobs after pregnancy.” This is the legacy she has left behind that has helped shape financial freedom for women across the globe.
I’ll leave you with a quote from the Rose Garden in 1993 when President Bill Clinton made the announcement for RBG’s nomination, which she accepted with a tribute to her mother: