Oakland, CA – Last Friday, our nation lost a lioness of the law. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lived an extraordinary life, led an extraordinary career, and lifted her extraordinary voice for 87 years—and the world is less kind and less just without her.
The Notorious RBG was small in stature, but she became a towering figure, moving mountains with her steadfast commitment to equal justice under the law. She was a brilliant attorney, scholar, and jurist. She was the architect and protector of so many forms of justice for so many–of women’s rights (from the right to equal treatment in the workplace to the right to reproductive justice), of disability rights, of voting rights, and more. And the sea changes she made toward equality lifted all boats.
Justice Ginsburg’s extraordinary career was not foreseeable. When she arrived at Harvard Law School in 1956, she was one of nine women in her class of 500. When the dean of the law school hosted a dinner for the women in her class, he asked them why they were taking a place of a man. Her story resonated with me, because when I entered Harvard Law 15 years later in 1971, I was one of only 12 African American women in my class; African Americans and women each were 10% of the class. During my first week at the law school, a group of male classmates came to my dorm room to tell me I should leave, because I was taking the place of a man, and because my degree would be wasted as I would only marry and have children. It took Justice Ginsburg decades of fierce advocacy for women’s rights and racial justice to ensure that neither the dean who interrogated her nor the classmates who browbeat me could find their attitudes enshrined in our nation’s laws.
During her 27 years on the Supreme Court, she protected the constitutional rights of all Americans, and her stinging dissents brought into sharp focus the absurdity of the Court as it veered to the right. She had the genius to make things crystal clear. Regarding the disastrous U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder to eliminate the requirement that states with a history of suppressing the Black vote obtain pre-clearance before enacting new voter restrictions, she issued this biting dissent: “Throwing out pre-clearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
She left this world on the Jewish sabbath and on the eve of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, which in her faith tradition means she was a Tzadik—one known for their righteous deeds, one kept on this Earth by their god until the very last minute, as the need for them here was so great. And indeed it was. We all flourished more under her protection. In her absence, we must take up her great mantle of protection ourselves. We must honor her life and her legacy by correcting the course of this nation, including protecting voting rights, reproductive choice, the environment, and ensuring racial justice and equity. We simply cannot afford to be discouraged. Like Justice Ginsburg, we must fight the good fight until our dying breath. May her memory be not merely a blessing, but a revolution.