What We Owe Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to ever serve on the Supreme Court, devoted her life to advocating for fairness and equality. And we are tremendously indebted to her for it.

A former professor who studied law at Harvard and Columbia, Ginsburg has always been an unwavering proponent of what she perceived to be just and fair. As such, during her time on the Supreme Court, her many dissents, for which she became warmly known, were largely in support of disenfranchised communities. Ginsburg helped decimate the last remaining all-male undergraduate university, ruled in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states, fought fiercely to close the gender pay gap, and ensured women’s access to government-funded contraception.

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Then-SCOTUS nominee Ruth Bader Ginsburg and President Bill Clinton at a press conference in June 1993

With such an immeasurable impact on our collective well-being, we can never truly repay Ginsburg for the years she spent quietly nudging our society forward, step by small, radical step. However, we can honor her memory, and carry forward her legacy in even the smallest and most crucial ways that would be most fitting for our dear, notorious R.B.G.

First and foremost, we owe it to Ruth Bader Ginsburg to keep our elected officials accountable for their hypocrisy and, as Joe Biden called it, “constitutional abuse of power.”

In the wake of Ginsburg’s death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already said that Trump’s nominee for her replacement “will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate” despite the election looming. Yet, when Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016 during Obama’s final tenure in office, McConnell sang a much different tune, saying,

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

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Ruth with President Obama

Making up a rule, only to flip-flop on it four years later when it no longer suits your agenda, is reprehensible, inexcusable, and a dangerous precedent to set. Don’t let it slide: contact your senator, donate your money. Put up a fight worthy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She fell just short of meeting her final, “most fervent wish” that she not be replaced until a new president is installed. Let’s help her make that wish come true.

Additionally, we owe it to Ginsburg to vote in the upcoming election. We know, we know, this message has likely already been shouted at you ad nauseam for months across your social media feed, but it bears repeating (and repeating, and repeating): you must vote.

Ginsburg dedicated her life to upholding the law and protecting the Constitution, and that includes your right to vote. So, even if your ideologies didn’t perfectly align with hers, even if you’re disheartened by the current candidates, frustrated with the election process, or disillusioned by our political systems altogether, vote anyway. It’s your right, and more importantly, it’s your duty, and it’s so important in the pursuit of a better tomorrow.

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Ruth at her confirmation hearing in July 1993

And that brings us to our next point: We owe it to Ruth Bader Ginsburg to remain hopeful as we move forward into the coming months and years.

Immediately after Ginsburg’s death, many publications published doom-centric pieces spouting end-of-days rhetoric, more kindling to fuel the mass hysteria already plaguing our news cycles and eroding our mental health.

Certainly, fear of the future is warranted, especially knowing that so many issues we hold dear could be in jeopardy with a new Supreme Court justice. But, genuinely, what good does waxing dystopian poetic do anyone? Who benefits from these declarations that the country is as good as gone? And, moreover, how does throwing up our hands and giving up do anything but ultimately dismiss Ginsburg’s insurmountable accomplishments and dismantle the very building blocks that Ginsburg spent her life putting together?

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Perhaps Ginsburg thought about giving up when she was grinding through law school while grappling with her husband’s cancer diagnosis while caring for their small daughter while making the Harvard Law Review. Or, maybe she became downtrodden when, while trying to ignite her law career, she was rejected from every law firm solely because of her gender.

Maybe she wanted to give up hope when President Trump was elected, or when she was diagnosed with cancer for the second or third or fourth time. Or perhaps when she lost her husband of more than 50 years. But she always soldiered on, strong and resolute, never faltering in her mission to serve the American people and aspire to the greater good. It does her memory a great disservice to conclude that the battle has been lost, that we should simply fold, declare this nation of ours a lost cause even though Ginsburg spent a lifetime elevating and executing laws that would open doors of success and equality to more people than ever before.

One of Ginsburg’s most powerful mantras was to “fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” She advised others to “never respond in anger… always as an opportunity to teach.”

During this particularly charged chapter of our history, it might be tempting to scream into the dark Twitter void or rage-comment on your family members’ misguided Facebook posts. And understandably so. But, maybe, during these times, we should try to be a little more like our R.B.G. She shouldered the enormous burden of championing what she thought was right, but she did so in a productive manner, seeking to enact actual change rather than just yelling into the ether.

Ginsburg’s impact on our country is monumental. Her legacy will be forever etched in our nation’s history. It’s up to us to make sure the lessons from that legacy are interwoven into our future.

Rest easy, R.B.G. You’ve earned it. We’ll take it from here and try our best to make you proud.


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Michelle Vincent
Michelle Vincent is a project manager and freelance writer. She enjoys traveling, is worried she won't love her future children as much as she loves her dogs, and is actively recruiting podcast recommendations.