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Remembering RBG

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On Friday, September 18, 2020, the world lost United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, affectionately known as Notorious RBG, in part because she often read aloud her passionate dissenting opinions in the Court’s hallowed chambers.

In honor of Ginsburg’s life, dear writers, we have two prompt options for you. Read more about RBG’s lasting legacy below, and then pick how you’d like to respond.

Justice Ginsburg was the 107th Supreme Court Justice but only the second woman to serve on the Court, nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1993. Both before and throughout her 27 year tenure on the Court, RBG championed women’s rights and gender equity through groundbreaking legal decisions that cascaded across the globe.

Two qualities made Ginsburg’s leadership especially poignant and powerful: her ability to connect with her audience (and, like all great writers, use that knowledge to inform her arguments), and her commitment to collegiality across ideological differences.

In 1975, as a law professor and women’s rights lawyer, Ginsburg won a unanimous victory at the Supreme Court in a gender equality case named Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld. RBG represented Stephen Wiesenfeld, a widowed father whose wife died during childbirth. Stephen cut back his work to care for his newborn son, but was denied Social Security child support benefits. Widowed women were entitled to such benefits but not men. Ginsburg recognized this unique opportunity to demonstrate gender inequality to an all-male Court through the story of a man who suffered the consequences. Not only did the case reinforce her status as an advocate for gender parity, meaning the equal rights of both men and women, but illustrated a brilliant strategy to persuade men in power that gender-based discrimination existed and harmed their own sex. RBG suffered from discrimination in her own life. After graduating at the top of her law school class, she was denied job interviews at prestigious NY law firms because she was a woman, a mother, and a Jew. 

Ginsburg once told an audience of young women at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you." RBG was a phenom, but she was also deeply humble and human, committed to reason and respect, even when vehemently disagreeing on ideological principles. She wrote this about collegiality among intellectual Court rivals in a NYT op-ed in 2016:
Despite our strong disagreements on cardinal issues — think, for example, of controls on political campaign spending, affirmative action, access to abortion — we genuinely respect one another, even enjoy one another’s company. Collegiality is crucial to the success of our mission. We could not do the job the Constitution assigns to us if we didn’t — to use one of Justice Antonin Scalia’s favorite expressions — “get over it!”

At this time of political and social turmoil around the world, Ginsburg’s words—and legacy—offer wise counsel. How can we fight for causes we believe in while inspiring others to join us? How can we collaborate with those whose belief systems contradict our own? How can we cultivate respect and collegiality without sacrificing productivity and change? When is it healthy to “get over it”?

For this prompt, you have two options, dear writers: 
  1. Write a reflection of 500-800 words describing what it means to you to “fight for the things that you care about... in a way that will lead others to join you.” Consider your audience, your argument, your commitment to collegiality in the fight for change. 
  2. Pen a “Thank You, RBG” letter, reflecting on the contributions of RBG and how her legacy will live on, in your life and the world. 

Other amazing accomplishments by RBG... 
  • Thrived as one of only nine women in her 500 person class at Harvard Law School
  • Served on both the Harvard Law Review and Columbia Law Review, an unprecedented achievement for male and female students alike
  • Left Harvard and transferred to Columbia Law School when her lawyer husband, Marty, got a job in New York City
  • Graduated from Columbia University Law School tied first in her class
  • Co-founded the Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the first US law journal to focus on issues of gender equality
  • Became the first woman professor to receive tenure at Columbia University Law School, where she taught following her professorship at Rutgers University
  • Co-founded the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project after representing women victims of sex discrimination in cases involving employment, voting, healthcare benefits, and education