On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, we lost a true icon, trailblazer, and inspiration for so many women, and men around the world. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on the eve of the Jewish New year, a day when Jews look backward and forward, reflecting on what has passed, and preparing for what is to come. According to Jewish tradition, a person who dies on Rosh Hashanah is known as a tzaddik – a righteous one. And Ruth, she was the one.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg wanted to be a clerk at the Supreme Court in 1960 but was rejected because of gender. Undeterred she blazed her way into the legal profession, fighting for women’s rights, including in a landmark Supreme Court case. And she did make it to the nation’s highest court in 1993, as just the second woman ever to become a justice on the highest court of the country, and became a renowned figure and cultural icon simply known as – the Notorious RBG. She had an extraordinary mind. But unlike some minds, she never let abstract ideas distract her from reality. Her deep and abiding commitment to justice and equality drove her analytic rigor, not the other way around.
Ginsburg has been a pioneer for gender equality throughout her distinguished career. While singular in her achievements, she was far from alone in her pursuits and received much support from dedicated women all along the way. Ruth’s mother, Celia Bader provided a strong role model for her daughter at an early age. Justice Ginsburg recalls, “My mother told me two things constantly. One was to be a lady, and the other was to be independent. The study of law was unusual for women of my generation. For most girls growing up in the ’40s, the most important degree was not your B.A., but your M.R.S.”
Furthermore, what made her stood out was her understanding of the concept of our democracies. She knew that democracy may be the best form of government, but recognized that our democracies come with two serious weaknesses or threats. First, that majorities will manipulate the electoral process to ensure that they will retain control of the legislative process. Second, a serious risk that majorities will disregard the rights, freedoms, and interests of members of communities they regard as the “other”. Unfortunately, throughout her life, and distinguished career, she witnessed and fought against both of these threats.
However, RBG’s mission to free both sexes, men as well as women, from the roles that society had assigned them and to harness the Constitution to break down the structures by which the state maintained and enforced those separate spheres – was that outstanding aspect of her life long project that made me love her, listen to her, learn from here, and most importantly – persist in the fight for equality, and bringing down the barriers. A widowed father seeking social welfare to enable him to be his baby’s caregiver was the perfect plaintiff, and a case to bring down existing structures, not only because his claim to the benefits that would go automatically to a widow might strike sympathetic justices as reasonable, but because his very goal could open the court’s eyes to the fact that child care was not a sex-determined role to be performed only by women.
For the past few years, Justice Ginsburg was facing many health difficulties, but remaining persistent and resilient, and in the end, making a choice. Instead of turning the public’s attention to her precarious health, she focused on the battle for her legacy. At key moments as her health challenges intersected with the court’s work, she dove in to fight for issues that have defined her career in areas such as abortion, voting rights, the death penalty, and women’s preventive health. Democrats and liberal supporters were surprised and relieved to find themselves on the winning side of some critical cases that conventional wisdom predicted would be losses.
Her life work has been recognized across the world, including Europe. Many EU leaders on Saturday paid tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a U.S. Supreme Court who died at age of 87. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen lauded Ginsburg as a “pioneer for women’s right, law, and justice”. She proved that women belong in all places of power where decisions are made, wrote von der Leyen, the first woman to serve as Commission president.
Several members of her Commission, including Vice Presidents Frans Timmermans and Margaritis Schinas, Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni, and Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli, as well as European Parliament President David Sassoli echoed her remarks.
“Relentless defender of the rule of law, one of the sharpest legal minds ever to sit on the bench, and tireless fighter in the struggle for equality, Ruth Bader Ginsburg deserves a place in the global Pantheon of human rights champions,” Timmermans wrote.
French President Emmanuel Macron wrote: “A truly exceptional woman has left us. Throughout her entire life, Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought for justice, gender equality, and respect for fundamental rights. Her outstanding legacy shall be our inspiration for a long time to come.”
The “Notorious RBG” will be remembered by many generations, and her distinguished achievements and crucial cases for the American society will echo in decades to come. To honor her, share with us your thoughts on her work, life, ideas, and values she advocated for.