Vittoria Santoro

All rise to honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg: woman, mother, judge, feminist icon. 

On the 18th of September Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away at 87 years of age. Born in 1933, in a world where women were still widely deprived of the right to vote, she rose through the ranks of her profession to seat on the highest court of her country and advocate for women’s rights.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was not an outspoken activist, an eloquent politician, or a Hollywood star with a wide platform, which is why her rise to pop culture icon might be baffling. Her rise to ‘fame’ in the era of social media was due to Tumblr, when in 2013 a law student named Shana Knizhnik created an account called ‘The Notorious RBG’ ( a play with words referencing The Notorious BIG, the famous Brooklyn rapper. It contributed to make her an internet sensation and transformed her into an idol of the masses who supported her for her commitment to gender equality.

Ruth Baden Ginsburg did not just speak of gender equality, which is necessary and welcome: she embodied the fight. What she faced can be described in words, but it will never do justice to what it must have been like to live through. When she got accepted to Harvard Law School, the Dean invited the nine female students enrolled (the men were 500) and reportedly asked them what is that they were doing there, taking the place of a man. Once she graduated, she had trouble finding work due to being a woman and was straight out rejected from a post as a clerk of Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, due to this specific reason. When she started teaching at Rutgers Law School she was paid less than her male counterparts because she had a husband with a well-paid job. Moreover, there were likely countless sexist and discriminating moments that she suffered daily, adding to the responsibility and stress of her work. But she carried through with her work, like all the women who were pioneers and had to carve a path for themselves as too few others walked it before them.

She not only lived through the discrimination though, but she also fought back. In 1970 she founded the Women’s Right Project for ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), which ever since has litigated and lobbied for women in matters of employment, education, criminal justice, and violence against women and contributed to the success of various landmark cases for gender equality. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was also a key figure in the recognition of the 14th Amendment (which addresses citizenship rights and equal protection under the law) as one that concerned gender too, which various women had attempted before, unsuccessfully, achieving this landmark result by taking various cases in front of the US Supreme Court and winning five. Yet, despite these victories in the 70s, gender equality was not fully achieved neither in practice nor from a legislative standpoint. Once she sat on the Supreme Court, she worked to take matters further. In 1996’s United States vs Virginia Military Academy, she brought about a landmark change: women could not be denied any of their citizenship rights just because they were women, and any law that admitted it should be scrutinized. 

In later years, she most famously sided in favor of Obamacare and of granting gay people the right to marriage. When it comes to racism, Justice Ginsburg received backlash for her criticism of Colin Kapernick’s peaceful protesting, which she had dubbed as ‘dumb’. However, she was also part of the minority in the Shelby County v. Holder voting case which resulted in eased control over voting procedures. She sided against the majority as she believed that this change in legislation could encourage racially-motivated voter suppression, especially in countries that had been notorious for dabbling with it in the past. 

As a person, Ruth Baden Ginsburg was unapologetic and vocal about her opinions, like when she said “When I’m sometimes asked when there will be enough [women in the Supreme Court] and I say ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” Among her most famous quotes should also be remembered: “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.”

While no icon is perfect and Ruth Bader Ginsburg surely had her flaws and shortcomings, she was still someone who more often than not sided in the name of equal rights across demographics. Now that she’s gone, a shadow is cast of what could happen with her replacement, and it is even more important to fight for her legacy. Not only in the United States, but across the world, as everywhere there is still a lot of work to be done for women, minorities, and equal rights in general.  

Thank you for your fights, Your Honor, and Rest in Peace: we’ll take it from here.