The ‘notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg’: exploring her life and legacy

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was known to many as a feminist icon, dubbed ‘notorious RGB’, she led the way for not only women’s rights in the US but also other minorities and the LGBTQ+ community. Her unwavering, progressive values and unmistakable bespectacled look has not only secured her place in history books but also in pop-culture. Her death has been feared by her followers with the future of the rights of many at risk with the ever-expanding conservative panel. 

Struggle, and the consequential fight for social justice and breaking barriers were interwoven into RBG’s life long before her position on the Supreme Court.

Having joined the Supreme Court in 1993 as the second ever woman to serve, RBG was initially one of the more moderate judges. This changed as the court began to shift to the right, meaning she soon sat on the liberal wing of the court, ruling on decisions involving male-only military admission, rightful ownership of tribal lands, and the rights of those with mental disabilities. 

Struggle, and the consequential fight for social justice and breaking barriers were interwoven into RBG’s life long before her position on the Supreme Court. Ruth learned from her Jewish upbringing the importance of independence and a good education, she came from a working-class family and her mother passed from cancer a day before her high-school graduation. She has seen success right from the beginning of her educational journey, finishing first in her class at Cornell University for Law, and went on to become the first female member of the Harvard Law Review; after surviving the male-dominated and hostile Harvard environment where she was chastised for taking the places of male candidates.

Despite her idolisation amongst millennials, whose tote bags and enamel pins are adorned with her famous quotes and collars, some have offered the opinion that this superhero status is dangerous.

In the 1970’s RGB became the first female tenured professor at Columbia and served as the director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. It was in this role she argued for six landmark cases on gender equality before the U.S Supreme Court, and I’m sure even then with her willing and unimpeachable nature she knew she would one day sit on the court herself.

Despite her idolisation amongst millennials, whose tote bags and enamel pins are adorned with her famous quotes and collars, some have offered the opinion that this superhero status is dangerous. Labelling RBG as a liberal, progressive icon is not necessarily accurate when looking at the intricacies of her views. For example, her dismissive comments about the Black Lives Matter movement with the initial protests of Colin Kaepernick – calling his actions “dumb and disrespectful” in a 2016 interview. This called into question the intensity of her staunch following who frame her as single-issue, who rally-around the life chances of one woman, who had also been criticised by her refusal to retire despite long-term health issues. 

It is true that one should consider the full influence and implications of RGB’s life on the supreme court when looking into her notoriety and legacy. Nonetheless, the impact she had when she was alive has very much set the scene for what is now at stake following her death.

President Donald Trump has wasted no time in insisting the Republican Party should replace RBG, wary the election on November 3rd will cost him rights over the next supreme court pick to secure a 6-3 conservative majority. Democrats were quick to point out the hypocrisy in this, reflecting on how Obama’s pick — Merrick Garland was snubbed in 2016 ahead of the election. Having an even stronger conservative majority on the court would influence monumental decisions for decades to come with it being a job for life. Worries lie also in the fact that existing laws could be at threat of being overturned. 

Many laws championed by Ginsburg may be at risk, most notably Roe v Wade (nationwide right to abortion). Concerns were first raised with Trump’s first supreme court appointment, Brett Kavanaugh, who has previously ruled to limit access to safe, legal abortion. On top of this, other anti-abortion politicians have pushed numerous bills in Congress that restrict abortion, making the issue higher on the current agenda. In fact, 20 states are poised to ban access to abortion should Roe v Wade be overturned.

Trump has announced his pick as Amy Coney Barrett, who has a history of limiting abortion rights, is a gun-rights activist and has been questioned for her strong catholic faith and whether this plays a role in her decision making. It is not known how likely it would be for her to end up on the court with the election looming, but many are wishing for a Biden-Harris nominee who more appropriately fills the place of RBG.

By Beth Mendleton

Image: by Yashmori via Flickr

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