When the news of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death from pancreatic cancer came late Friday night, it was a huge loss as a longstanding Supreme Court Justice, and as an advocate for women’s rights. Her wish to serve on the court until a new president was elected was denied.
Who didn’t admire Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman in the history of this country to be appointed to the Supreme Court?
Revered for her strong voice and brilliant mind, apparent long before she was confirmed under the Clinton administration, she was known for promoting gender equality, same-sex marriage, preserving women’s reproductive rights.
She was a legend. Her nickname, The Notorious RBG, came as a riff on The Notorious B.I.G., a rapper. First, there was a book about her, followed by a movie. And RBG herself loved it, handing out many T-shirts with her caricature. When has a member of the Supreme Court ever been an icon?
What can you say? Massive numbers of texts and calls went out Friday night as the word spread.
One of my first reactions was, “Boy, everybody and his brother are going to be writing about Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”
Why not, “Girl, everybody and her sister are going to be writing about Ruth Bader Ginsburg”?
As they used to say in the cigarette commercials of the last century, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” And Gloria Steinem would answer, “You haven’t come a long way and you’re not a baby.” Okay, it’s a process.
Later Friday night and into Saturday, stories of her brilliance, her incredible work ethic, her belief that we have to work for something beyond on our own, and anecdotes about her as a person who was respectful, funny, and approachable. She lived her values and gave us an example of making progress with tenacity and always with respect.
When asked how many women she thought should sit on the highest court she said nine. Some were surprised, and she was surprised right back. “When there were nine men it seemed to be okay.”
The barriers Justice Ginsburg broke down — battles for gender equality and same-sex marriage went way back to her entry into law school as one of few women not only with a baby daughter but with husband Marty at home struggling with cancer.
And as we know, she had cancer multiple times, almost never missing a day on the bench. She persevered.
And she would wear a “dissent collar” when she had a minority opinion? Who else would admit she “wasn’t 100 percent sober” when caught in the arms of Morpheus at Barack Obama’s 2016 State of the Union Speech?
The 2018 documentary film RBG was something of a blockbuster. Was it because it showed her as scary smart and indefatigable? Her accomplishments wearing the black robe were one thing, but there was the weigh training, the plank, and the push-ups. Oh, those push-ups and the look of determination were worth the price of admission.
The notorious RBG admitted when she was wrong; worked to make things right, held the belief that change comes one step at a time; urged working together, and remembering kindness and respect.
She was a woman who believed that “sometimes it is helpful to be a little deaf – in a marriage or in the Supreme Court.”
“Be certain in a time of uncertainty,” Ginsburg said. And “Fight for the things you care about in a way that will lead other people to join you.”
Justice Ginsburg was loved by a nation not only for her accomplishments that affect American families — men as well as women — but for her humanity. We can never pay her back, only pay it forward, like most gifts that come to us, and present the opportunity to do the right thing.