Op-ed: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Legacy Will Outlive Her

Friday night, my social media pages, as I’m sure those of many others did too, became flooded with photos of and quotes from the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Passing away from pancreatic cancer at age 87, Ginsburg has left behind an important and influential legacy — a legacy more important than the political tumult caused by her death.

Ginsburg has become a social media icon in the past few years, with both a documentary and movie made about her life. Nicknamed the “Notorious RBG,” she has developed a strong fanbase because of her stances on many issues, most notably gender equality.

Ginsburg had been sick for a long time, and because of her old age, even though her death is upsetting, it is not shocking. For the past few months, many people have been discussing what it means if she were to pass away and open up a seat on the Supreme Court before the presidential election in November. 

Now, the next few months are sure to be full of increased political unrest as Congress decides whether or not President Donald Trump will be allowed to appoint a new justice, even with the possibility that he may no longer be president come 2021.

Interestingly, a similar situation occurred when former Supreme Court Justice and Ginsburg’s close friend Antonin Scalia passed away in 2016 during President Barack Obama’s final year in office. Congress did not permit President Obama to appoint a new judge.

In this politically divisive time, many are nervous about who President Trump may nominate to take Ginsburg’s place and what it could mean for women, the LGBTQ community and immigrants, among many other important political issues. President Trump’s shortlist of candidates includes many conservative politicians, including William H. Pryor Jr. who is outspokenly pro-life, and considers Roe v. Wade to be an, “abomination.”

However, who Ginsburg was and what she did for this country is much more than the timing of her unfortunate death. Ginsburg has been fighting for equality since long before President Trump was heavily involved in politics, and her legacy will live on far longer than he will be in office.

Ginsburg is the second woman to sit on the Supreme Court bench, being appointed in 1993, but her impact on United States politics began long before that. After attending both Harvard and Columbia law schools and becoming a lawyer in 1959, she began fighting for gender equality, even arguing six times about this issue in front of the Supreme Court. She won five of those cases.

While a champion for women, she also was a champion for men regarding gender equality. One of her most notable cases in front of the Supreme Court was for a man who could not receive social security benefits after his wife’s passing based on his gender. Ginsburg helped show the United States that gender issues hurt everyone.

One of her cases in front of the Supreme Court led them to expand equality protections underneath the 14th amendment to women, helping to undo sex discrimination raging throughout the country.

Her legacy and fight for equality only grew once she was appointed a justice.

In her first few years on the Supreme Court bench, Ginsburg led a decision to no longer allow Virginia Military Institute to be a male-only school. The state of Virginia argued that women were unfit for the rigorous physical demands of this military school.

Ginsburg famously wrote regarding this issue, “Reliance on overbroad generalizations … estimates about the way most men or most women are, will not suffice to deny opportunity to women whose talent and capacity place them outside the average description.”

The Supreme Court ruled that sex discrimination was against the law at VMI, using the 14th amendment to defend this decision — the same amendment that Ginsburg had been integral in extending its coverage to women just decades before.

Ginsburg also spoke on women’s rights regarding abortion, believing that equality for women and autonomy over their bodies should extend to pregnancy.

Beyond her heavy involvement in gender equality issues, Ginsburg was also instrumental in race and LGBTQ+ equality, as well as fighting for rights for individuals with disabilities. She fought for many marginalized groups, and made decisions on the Supreme Court that helped protect them. 

She was a part of the decision to legalize gay marriage in 2015 and advocated for the LGBTQ+ community. She also dissented against the Supreme Court’s decision to gut a law put in place to protect minorities from racial discrimination when voting. The Supreme Court had ruled the law as outdated and outside their power. However, Ginsburg held the opinion that racial discrimination was still prominent, and protections against it were necessary and within the court’s power to uphold.

While Ginsburg has been an essential part of many significant decisions for the United States, I do not wish to suggest she is perfect. Like all politicians, she was flawed and some of her decisions have been harmful to different groups of people, including voting against granting a specific tax exemption to Native American tribes and voting in favor of a pipeline on National Park Service land. 

She spent the majority of her professional life fighting for others’ equality and helping to achieve that equality. She was a remarkable woman, a compliment that even President Trump, who was at odds with Ginsburg over many issues, has agreed with.

When hearing the news of her passing, President Trump remarked, “She led an amazing life, what else can you say? She was an amazing woman, whether you agreed [with her] or not, she was an amazing woman who led an amazing life.”

I, like many others, am nervous about what her death means for the Supreme Court and the United States. I am skeptical about who will take her place, and if they will be the champion for women and equality as she was. 

But for now, I simply wish to honor her legacy, and to say thank you. Thank you, Ruth Bater Ginsburg. Thank you for fighting for women, for fighting for marginalized groups and for fighting for this country. 


Story by: Lainey Cartwright