I cried when I heard that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died. The passing of this woman whom I had never met moved me to tears.
Her diminutive stature did not bespeak the huge strides that she made for herself and for all women. After graduating from Cornell as the highest-ranking female student in her class, she began law school at Harvard. When her husband, Marty, graduated a year ahead of her and accepted a job in New York, she went with him and finished (joint) first in her class at Columbia. She did this all while caring for Marty during a bout with testicular cancer, attending both her own and his classes, and taking care of her young daughter.
Despite making law review and graduating at the top of her class, she soon found that law firms weren’t interested in hiring her because she was a woman. She taught law and volunteered as a litigator for the ACLU. It was there that she would begin to make strides in the battle against gender inequality. In one of her most famous cases, she won Social Security survivors’ benefits for a widower after his wife died unexpectedly during childbirth. Prior to that, those benefits had been solely designated for widows. In 2018, the movie “On the Basis of Sex” featured not only this case, but also some of the other ground-breaking cases of Justice Ginsburg. Concerning women, if we have a credit card in our own name and our own credit history, if we have leased an apartment or bought property in our own name, if we have consented to our own medical treatment, or if we have played a sport in school…we can thank Justice Ginsburg.
Her accomplishments led to her appointment on the federal appeals court by President Jimmy Carter. In 1993, President Bill Clinton sent her to the Supreme Court, hoping she would be “a force for consensus-building”. Drawing upon the tenets of justice, peace, and enlightenment from her Jewish faith and an early lesson from her mother prior to her death from cervical cancer the day before Ruth’s high school graduation (“Yelling is not going to bring people to your table.”), she certainly accomplished that mission. Her ability to disagree without being disagreeable and to remain respectful of her colleagues from opposing ideological sides has been noted as the foundation for her great friendship with the conservative (and opera-loving) Justice Antonin Scalia. She did not however allow her fondness for her conservative colleagues to cloud her mission. Her feisty dissents earned her the moniker “Notorious RBG” from an NYU law student/blogger and with it a cult-like following from younger generations.
With the news of her death on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, her good friend and NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg noted that, “A Jewish teaching says those who die just before the Jewish New Year are the ones God has held back until the last moment because they were needed most.” There is also a Buddhist proverb which states that “in each loss there is a gain”. We have definitely lost so much with the passing of Justice Ginsburg. Besides the indisputable contributions that she made to society as a whole, I will personally take from Ruth Bader Ginsburg a few simple lessons: to continue to strive to be the best version of myself, to not let adversity stand in the way of achieving my potential, to remain open-minded to alternate view-points, to disagree without being disagreeable, and to always have a sense of humor about myself.
Rest in power, RBG, and…thank you.
*Stream “On the Basis of Sex” on Sling or Amazon Prime.