You do not know me, but I know you. I know how your Jewish father battled discrimination to immigrate to America from Russia. I know how your spirited mother rebelled against the traditional roles of women to educate you. I know how you missed your high-school graduation when your mother died unexpectedly.
But I also know how you refused to give up. Every obstacle in your path was just another challenge to overcome. People thought women were supposed to find a husband, but you went to college and graduated top of your class. Employers didn’t want to have women working for them, but you worked hard and your talent landed you a job in the firm. And when the highest court in our country, the Supreme Court of the United States, said “women has always been dependent upon man,” what did you do?
You disagreed, Ruth. Compassionate and honest and clever, you used every bit of your courage to stand up to those men and tell them the truth that every human being deserves to be treated with grace and dignity. They listened. For the first time in decades, the Court ruled that discrimination against women in employment violated the 14th amendment, which stated all citizens had the right to due process and equal opportunity under the law.
But you weren’t finished, you were just getting started. The judges kept listening, and out of the six gender-discrimination cases you argued (a term that you coined), you won five of them. As you continued to gain success as a lawyer, powerful people began to take notice. Like the President of the United States. And in 1993, you were appointed to the Supreme Court itself as only its second female judge and first one of Jewish faith.
There were people who assumed judge-hood would tame you, but it only you made stronger. As the swing voter in many instances, your opinions fundamentally shaped the course of human rights within our country for the better. Under you, a male-only admissions policy for the Virginia Military Institute was struck down, same-sex marriage was legalized across all 50 states, integration and rights for the disabled were affirmed, and so, so much more. On times you sided with the majority, you would wear a special lace collar, but at other times - those that people will remember the best for you - you changed into a different one.
These were times when you did not simply disagree - you dissented. You dissented in 2007 when the Court ruled that a female employee at a tire company couldn’t sue after being paid less than her male coworkers. You dissented in 2013 after a decision gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And when you dissented in 2000 about a decision that handed George W. Bush the presidency, you ended your opinion simply with “I dissent”, omitting the “respectfully” part that customarily precedes it.
But even being a Supreme Court Justice wasn’t enough to hold you down. With your incredibly supportive husband, you raised a family while still in college. As a young adult, you joined the American Civil Liberties Union and brought it to the national stage. Even into your late 80s, you wowed your colleagues with your performance at the gym.
Then something happened yesterday, something I still can’t believe. For so many years I watched you from the sidelines, fighting for justice every step of the way. As immigrants, my family admired you for always putting the rights of others first. As a young girl, I looked up to you for your role as a feminist icon. Your death seems so surreal that I was afraid to write this. It took me a week to find my courage, like you did time and time again through your career, to dig deeper into my thoughts and unleash the pain that digs into my bones.
You dissented and fought for the sake of our democracy, but with your death, I feel as if it’s crumbling beneath my feet. Already, I’ve seen hundreds of articles talking about your replacement, and how your vacancy will shift the tide between Democrats and Republicans and impact policy-making for years to come. Yet the words dead and vacant haven’t filtered into my vocabulary. To me, you’re still Justice Ginsburg, the Great Dissenter, the Notorious RBG. How can I think about the future when your death feels so surreal?
I cried when I learned you died, and I cried on the days that followed. As a young girl, I looked up to you as a role model for generations of women. As an immigrant, I will be forever indebted in your commitment to giving minorities a voice. Now, all that remains is a dull ache in my chest where my heart should be beating. I've hidden this pain from everyone, even my family. Maybe they'd be surprised at the emotion coursing through my veins - in actuality, I've only seen you through a screen or a page. But I know you. Even when I was the most distrustful of the government, you were the one person I could on. You symbolized what stayed in Pandora's box after all of humanity's evils leaked out. You gave me hope that no matter how cruel our President acted and how divided our Congress was, you would always stand on democracy's side and champion the rights of the people. Unlike a Court decision, your death is permanent, but so is your legacy. As millions mourn across the nation, we are united in our grief. We will never dare to forget your contributions, and together, we will continue your life's work in furthering equality.