Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court and a champion of women’s rights, died on Friday at the age of 87.
On her deathbed, Ginsburg dictated to her granddaughter, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
Ginsburg was one of four consistently liberal judges on the Court. If President Trump succeeds in choosing her replacement, conservatives will enjoy nearly unchecked power in the judicial branch with a lopsided 6-3 vote. As justices serve for life, decisions made about the Court endure for decades.
Because of Ginsburg, women have the same legal and financial rights as men. She fought for the separation of church and state, reproductive rights and fair and equal pay.
The burden of American democracy cannot rest on one woman’s shoulders. In her final days, she should have been able to rest. Instead, she chose to continue fighting.
Your vote matters at every level, this year especially.
When Mitch McConnell blocked President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, he set an important precedent that a justice should not be replaced in an election year — a precedent it seems his party may disregard this time around.
No matter what happens over the next two weeks or two months, it is clear that America’s only hope of keeping a balanced court lies in the hands of voters. Voting Democrat in this election has greater significance beyond choosing any one candidate; it is about protecting the legacy of Ginsburg and so many others who fought to make America what it is today.
Biden is hardly anyone’s first choice, but even Ginsburg herself was not without flaws. Notably, she limited Indigenous rights and called Colin Kaepernick’s protests “dumb and disrespectful” (though she later apologized).
But Ginsburg’s legacy as a public servant has become something much greater than her.
In historic victories like United States v. Virginia, Stenberg v. Carhart and Obergefell v. Hodges, as well as scathing dissents like Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, Ginsburg was instrumental in securing gender equality, reproductive freedom and same-sex marriage for American citizens.
Without her leadership, these precedents are in danger.
Political figures like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and activist Brittany Packnett Cunningham have taken to social media to inspire a greater voter turnout in this election, urging Americans to fight harder now than ever before.
“I know the popular analysis is going to be “we’re screwed,” and I *feel you.* But nah. RBG didn’t go out like that, and neither are we. I’m not speaking that, and I’m not believing that. We gon fight. That’s what we’re gonna do,” Cunningham tweeted.
At a 2015 Radcliffe ceremony honoring Ginsburg, the interviewer asked the justice what advice she would give the next generation of women.
“Young women today have this great advantage that there are no more closed doors,” she said. “That was basically what the 70s were about, opening doors that had been closed to women.”
She then delivered her now-famous advice: “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
But it’s what she said next that rings with me today.
“One vital asset is a sense of humor. I don’t know how many put-downs I have turned that way.”
“The remark was made about [late] Justice Rehnquist saying at the end of the Missouri jury case, ‘So, Mrs. Ginsburg, you won’t settle for Susan B. Anthony’s face on the new dollar?’ A perfect answer, which I didn’t think of on the spot, would have been, ‘No, Justice Rehnquist, tokens won’t do.’”
The audience erupted in laughter at Ginsburg’s blunt honesty, but underneath her signature humor was the message that encapsulates who Ginsburg was. She was never one to settle — she was a fighter.
She was at the top of her class while studying law at both Harvard and Columbia University. As one of the very few women accepted, she became one of the most successful law students, male or female, in history.
When her husband was being treated for cancer, she took notes for his classes on top of her own studies while also taking care of their young daughter. As a Supreme Court justice, she worked through colon cancer in 1999, pancreatic cancer in 2009, heart surgery in 2014, lung cancer in 2018, broken ribs in 2019 and both liver cancer and a gall bladder condition in 2020.
Her death should not have to be politicized, but we find ourselves at a critical moment in American history where everything is political.
If you or someone you love would be threatened by a conservative Court, you owe it to Justice Ginsburg to vote.
Friday at sundown also marked the beginning of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.
Though Ginsburg was not religiously observant, she was proud of her Jewish heritage and spoke often about how it shaped her worldview. In Jewish tradition, it is believed that the most righteous people die at the end of the year because they were needed throughout it.
Many social media users have gently reminded mourners of the respectful way to honor a Jewish person after their death: “May their memory be a blessing.” In a number of the tributes that poured out, that phrase was amended: “May her memory be a revolution.”
May the memory of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg live on in all of us.
May we vote with the same fervor that she embodied in everything she did.
When you vote, tell them Ruth sent you.
Coulture’s mission statement says that we aim to be a magazine for people of all shapes and sizes, for those who speak up and stand out. We recognize that it is important to hear from people with personal views, strong perspectives, and something to say. This article is part of Coulture’s “What I’m Voting For” initiative where members write about the issues they care about in the 2020 election.