Loss of an Icon: The Notorious RBG

By Anya Witmer

2020 has been both an unprecedented year, and a modern tragedy: from new, deadly global pandemics and an amazing resurgence in social revolution, to the loss of an icon, warrior, and a pop culture hero.

On September 18, 2020, after decades as a prominent protagonist for women’s rights, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lost her battle with cancer.[1] The world will never be the same.

I felt Justice Ginsburg’s passing particularly deeply as it fell on the heels of the passing of my own mother. My mother was a young college graduate during the height of Justice Ginsburg’s fight for equality with dreams of being an FBI agent. Despite achieving top grades, she was told the only available position for her in the FBI was as a secretary. I grew up with stories of the gender discrimination she fought against in the peace corps (as a volunteer police officer) and in her law school internships.

The work Justice Ginsburg championed ensured my mother’s right to be an equal partner in the workplace and paved the way for future female attorneys to be judged by their performance rather than their skirts.

Justice Ginsburg began her momentous career as a top student at both Harvard and Columbia Law Schools.[2] Even though she was an ideal candidate, she had trouble finding work as a lawyer in New York because of her gender.[3] Thus, she began teaching[4] and eventually founded and led the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.[5] It was here that she began her fight for equality.

Ginsburg appeared before the Supreme Court on six separate occasions and prevailed on five of those six arguments.[6] She proved to a nine-man court that equality was not only a women’s issue but also negatively impacted men.[7]

Ginsburg’s work at the ACLU caught the eye of the president and she was appointed to the federal bench by President Jimmy Carter in 1980.[8] She was later appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton as the second woman to be appointed to the highest bench.[9] When recalling his meeting with her, President Clinton reminisced on how thoroughly charmed he was by Justice Ginsburg and that he knew within ten minutes that he would be nominating her.[10]

During her time on the court, she continued to champion women’s issues and civil rights actions. She became known as “the great dissenter,” authoring scathing dissenting opinions which catapulted her into the public view.[11]

Ginsburg’s tenure on the court earned her a spot on the pop culture pedestal, which awarded the moniker “the Notorious RBG.”[12] She has become an icon of the feminist movement. Her famed “dissenting collar” has become a symbol of women calling for equal rights.[13] It appears on pins, clothing, mugs, and even appears on a card game, which was inspired by Ginsburg’s dissenting record.[14] A hit motion picture and documentary were released in recent years showing Ginsburg’s catapult through the legal world and into popular culture.[15] [16]

With the impending election just weeks away, Ginsburg’s final wish was that her seat remain unfilled until the next president is installed. This follows the precedent that was observed in 2016 when Justice Antonin Scalia, RBG’s close friend and ideological adversary, died nine months before a presidential election.[17] Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was a staunch proponent of this precedent four years ago,[18] yet he indicated almost immediately that he would be ignoring her request and that there would be a vote as soon as he is able.[19] His position has been met by voices on both sides of the aisle calling for RBG’s final wish to be granted.[20] This conversation is nowhere near over and we are about to witness history in the making as a heated political fight roars to life.

As a highly respected figure, Justice Ginsburg leaves a giant hole in the American community. Her expertise and guidance will be missed by all people,  regardless of political stance or legal acumen.

Justice Ginsburg’s body lay in repose at the Supreme Court where she was mourned by the American community, including approximately 120 of her 169 previous law clerks.[21] A week after her passing, Justice Ginsburg became the first woman and first Jewish person to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.[22] She is expected to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery.[23]

“Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg[24]

[1] Nina Totenberg, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Champion Of Gender Equality, Dies At 87, NPR (September 18, 2020, 7:28 PM), https://www.npr.org/2020/09/18/100306972/justice-ruth-bader-ginsburg-champion-of-gender-equality-dies-at-87.

[2] RBG (Magnolia Pictures 2018).

[3] See supra note 2.

[4] See supra note 2.

[5] Anthony D. Romero, In Memory of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020), ACLU (September 19, 2020), https://www.aclu.org/news/civil-liberties/in-memory-of-justice-ruth-bader-ginsburg-1933-2020/

[6] See supra note 5.

[7] See supra note 2.

[8]  Michele Goodwin, In RBG’s Legacy, Echoes of a Feminist President: Jimmy Carter, Newsweek (September 23, 2020), https://www.newsweek.com/jimmy-carter-ruth-bader-ginsburg-1533869

[9] Robert Barnes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Bill and Hillary Clinton Reminisce About her Nomination, The Washington Post (October 30, 2019), https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/ruth-bader-ginsburg-bill-and-hillary-clinton-reminisce-about-her-nomination/2019/10/30/57bd1014-fb67-11e9-ac8c-8eced29ca6ef_story.html

[10] See supra note 9.

[11] See supra note 2.

[12] Shana Knizhnik, Notorious R.B.G., Tumblr, https://notoriousrbg.tumblr.com/

[13] Lydia Wheeler, Ginsburg Appears to Wear ‘Dissent’ Collar on Bench, The Hill (November 9, 2016), https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/305246-ginsburg-appears-to-wear-dissent-collar-on-bench

[14] https://dissentpins.com/products/dissent-collar-pin?utm_source=www.google.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=GoogleCPC&variant=8685418348654&sfdr_ptcid=15655_4_523808806&sfdr_hash=e2ac214610e2f6b46f561e396ddbc058&utm_campaign=gs-2018-11-01&utm_source=google&utm_medium=smart_campaign&gclid=CjwKCAjwh7H7BRBBEiwAPXjadqVuSuP_XrkKXwLh7oQZFM_ngX2t9xZEg2c0dHsAauLMh2hHrm6N5xoCQlgQAvD_BwE; https://www.amazon.com/Ruth-Bader-Ginsburg-Clothing-Shoes-Jewelry/s?k=Ruth+Bader+Ginsburg&rh=n%3A7141123011; https://www.target.com/p/rbg-i-dissent-board-game/-/A-76151604?ref=tgt_adv_XS000000&AFID=google_pla_df&fndsrc=tgtao&CPNG=PLA_Toys%2BShopping&adgroup=SC_Toys&LID=700000001170770pgs&network=g&device=c&location=9031326&ds_rl=1246978&ds_rl=1248099&gclid=CjwKCAjwh7H7BRBBEiwAPXjadmJT_eeUuyvpd969SHZBMUccv1eQ7o2INZZrVuw1mhHDhmlID_65FhoCcVMQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

[15] On the Basis of Sex (Focus Features 2018).

[16] See supra note 2.

[17] Adam Liptak and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Shadow of Merrick Garland Hangs Over the Next Supreme Court Fight, New York Times (September 19, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/19/us/ginsburg-vacancy-garland.html

[18] See supra note 17.

[19] Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, McConnell Vows Vote on Ginsburg Replacement as Her Death Upends the 2020 Race, New York Times (September 18, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/18/us/politics/mitch-mcconnell-supreme-court-ruth-bader-ginsburg.html

[20] See supra note 19.

[21] Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lies in Repose at Supreme Court, CNN (September 23, 2020), https://edition.cnn.com/politics/live-news/ruth-bader-ginsburg-supreme-court-memorial

[22] Ron Kampeas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg Will be the First Jew and First Woman to Lie in State at the Capitol, Jewish Telegraphic Agency (September 21, 2020), https://www.jta.org/2020/09/21/united-states/ruth-bader-ginsburg-will-be-the-first-jew-and-first-woman-to-lie-in-state-at-the-capitol

[23] See supra note 21.

[24] See supra note 2.

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