To my great dismay, I reconnected to technology on Sunday night after I concluded celebrating Rosh Hashana to learn the profoundly sad news of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing. Ginsburg was a heroine who fought against gender discrimination, a champion of women’s rights, a powerful civil rights lawyer, and an empathetic figure who served on the United States Supreme Court for twenty seven years. Thousands have gathered to mourn her passing and to pay homage to her contributions to the judicial system and the legacy she left behind.
Ginsburg once said, “My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.” Ginsburg was a shining feminist icon who lived every day according to that credo. Even in the face of adversity, Ginsburg’s perseverance and compassion spoke volumes about her strength and character. She graduated top of her class in 1954 at Cornell University and enrolled at Harvard Law, where she tackled challenges of motherhood and a male-dominated school, being one of the seven women in a 500 person class. She served as the first female member of the Harvard Law Review, and after transferring to Columbia Law School for her last year, she graduated first in her class in 1959. In the 1960s, Ginsburg taught at Rutgers University Law School, a position she held for 9 years before accepting an offer to teach at Columbia University where she became the first female professor to earn tenure.
Prior to her 1993 appointment to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton, Ginsburg had already left an indelible mark on society by advocating for gender equality and civil rights. As the director of the Women’s Rights Project at American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), she fought against gender discrimination and argued six landmark cases before the Supreme Court. She successfully challenged a system that offered restricted opportunities for individuals based on prejudice gender roles of the 1970s. As a justice, Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion in United States v. Virginia in 1996, which granted qualified women admission to Virginia Military Institute. In 2007, she dissented against Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., and she worked with President Obama to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which promoted worker protection against pay discrimination.
Ginsberg’s advocacy over the years showed her steady and calculated style, where she tackled gender discrimination and violations of civil rights one battle at a time. Her resilience and determination have positively impacted social justice, and she improved millions of lives by dismantling countless barriers.
Nina Totenberg, NPR’s award-winning legal affairs correspondent, tweeted the following on Saturday, “A Jewish teaching says those who die just before the Jewish New Year are the ones God has held back until the last moment because they were the most needed and were the most righteous. And so it was that #RBG died as the sun was setting last night marking the beginning of RoshHashanah.” Innumerable people have benefitted from Ginsburg’s intelligence, foresight, and virtuosity. We will forever strive to honor, commemorate, and emulate her exemplary ways. May God grant comfort to her family and the many who mourn her tragic loss.