By Don Dike-Anukam | Images by Eric Marks
On Friday afternoon a news flash went across the nation and around the world that the often-celebrated U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG for short) died of metastatic pancreatic cancer at 87 at her home in Washington D.C.
Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1933. She married her husband, Martin Ginsburg, in 1954. They had two children, Jane and James. She received a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University before attending Harvard Law and then Columbia Law School, where she received an LL.B.
Ginsburg spent nearly 15 years after law school working as a legal scholar and professor before helping to launch the women’s rights project at the American Civil Liberties Union; she was the ACLU’s general counsel from 1973 to 1980. She was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Court in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter, where she served until the summer of 1993, when she was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton, on the recommendation of then-U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. She took her seat on the court after the U.S. Senate confirmed her by a 96-3 vote on Aug. 3 1993.
Associate Justice Ginsburg in recent years became a prolific presence in popular culture and has been featured and profiled in movies, books and on social media. Notable of these profiles was “On the Basis of Sex,” a 2018 legal drama that received a number of awards and prizes.
She was known to be a stalwart supporter of and advocate for women’s rights in major areas of the public arena. Ginsburg faced her own challenges with sexism and discrimination, having been demoted while working for the Social Security Administration when she became pregnant with her first child and, later, reportedly having been asked by the Dean of Harvard Law, where she was one of few women, why she was there taking a place that would otherwise have gone to a man.
As a judge, Ginsburg was often seen as liberal on issues ranging from gender discrimation to voting rights and reproductive rights to civil liberties and election law.
Ginsburg holds the title as the longest Jewish justice in American history. She was the second Jewish justice, after AssociateJustice Abe Fortas. When she was appointed in 1993, she became the second woman on the bench; preceding her was Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981. There have only been four women appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court: Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. Kagan and Sotomayor were both appointed by President Barack Obama.
Nevada’s political leadership responds
Nevada’s Senior U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto issued a statement following Ginsburg’s death:
“Justice Ginsburg was a pioneer, an icon and a fighter in every sense of the word. She earned a law degree while raising a toddler, fought for gender equality in countless male-dominated courtrooms and spent 27 years serving the American people on the nation’s highest court. She has inspired countless women, including me, to break down barriers and claim their seats at the table. Her contributions to the body of American law, from her fight for gender equality to her defense of voting rights, are surpassed only by the legacy of love she instilled in her children and extended family. This is a devastating loss for the Supreme Court and for our country.”
Fellow U.S. Senator from Nevada Jacky Rosen also issued a statement concerning Ginsburg’s passing:
“Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a force for justice. From her role in the fight for gender equality, to a storied legal career, to serving as a lion on the bench of the United States Supreme Court, she used every ounce of her ability to give voice to the voiceless and help build a more equitable and just world. I share in our nation’s grief, and pledge to fight tirelessly to see that the monumental and historic work of Justice Ginsburg is honored for generations to come. May her memory forever be a blessing.”
Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak called Ginsburg “a trailblazer, icon, fierce advocate for equality and legal powerhouse” as an associate justice on the Supreme Court.
“She was a role model for so many and I know her legacy will continue to inspire our future leaders,” Sisolak said in a statement. Sisolak signed an executive order shortly after Ginsburg’s death ordering flags at the state capitol and state public grounds to be flown at half-staff through the date of Ginsburg’s internment.
Sincere beliefs or hyper-partisan grandstanding?
Ginsburg’s death leaves a vacancy on the Supreme Court with fewer than 50 days left before the general election. The situation naturally raises concerns over potential legislative conflict in the Senate should President Donald Trump attempt to nominate someone to fill it within the coming weeks.
It seems likely he will, given that he tweeted the day after Ginsburg’s passing that filling her seat was an obligation to be carried out “without delay.” Trump may hope to galvanize his base around the issue, as he did in 2016 following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
On Sept.12 in Minden, Trump made a challenge to his Democratic presidential rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, to put together a list of Supreme Court nominees. Earlier that week, Trump had announced his list at the White House.
In 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell famously prevented then-President Obama from appointing Merrick Garland to the Court. He and other Republicans claimed a Supreme Court seat should not be filled so close to an election.
However, shortly following word of Ginsburg’s death, Senator McConnell’s office issued this statement concerning the vacancy and the potential for it to be filled quickly: “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
With haste, McConnell’s former Democratic colleague, former Nevada Senator Harry Reid and the Nevada Democratic Party, issued a statement:
“Ruth Bader Ginsburg represented a level of greatness rarely seen in our country. She was not only a brilliant Supreme Court Justice and jurist, but a woman whose inspiring story and courageous leadership transcend law, politics and government. She forever changed our country, not to mention the Supreme Court. The impact made by Justice Ginsburg on women’s leadership, equal rights and basic fairness is without parallel. She’s been an inspiration to women, girls, LGBTQ individuals and people everywhere, and she will continue to inspire for many years to come.
“Each Republican Senator must now demonstrate whether previous protests about filling Supreme Court seats during an election year were sincere beliefs or a shameless example of the cynical hyper-partisan grandstanding and obstruction that Americans detest from Washington.
“If Republicans attempt to force yet another nominee onto the Supreme Court against the will of the American people, then they risk delegitimizing themselves and their party even more. Doing so would further tear our country apart and take our democracy down a perilous road. Democrats must do everything in their power to prevent this from happening and ensure the voices of the American people are heard.”
Locals gather for downtown vigil
Nevada ACLU Policy Director Holly Wellborn attended a vigil held Sept. 19 at the Bruce Thompson Federal Courthouse in Reno to honor Ginsburg. She said the justice’s death could impact her organization and the people it fights for in several ways, noting that “the makeup of the Court is very important” but that the ACLU and other civil rights organizations had won lawsuits in “some of the most conservative courts in our nation’s history.”
“So, we believe in the rule of law,” Wellborn told This Is Reno. “We believe in the protections of the Constitution, and we believe we are on the right side of those arguments. We have the smartest attorneys in the country working for us, working for partners in other groups. We’re going to fight to guard the Constitution and protect individual liberty…as long as we’re here and we’re standing, which we have been.
“I believe we are resilient. I think the road ahead is scary, but we’re going to be okay.”
Don Dike-Anukam is a Reno native attending college in northern Nevada. He has been involved in activist politics for 15 years on and off, and has been involved in multiple campaigns in multiple positions in that time. He also was a college radio political, news, and talk-show host covering a range of stories from hostage standoffs, fires, interviews, and public speeches.