As she walked her dog through her neighborhood with a live news broadcast playing softly from her mom’s phone, Frances Ross ’22 came to a halt. Watching as her mom frantically opened Safari and read the same headline over and over , Frances Ross struggled to process the news she had just heard: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died.
“I honestly didn’t know what to think at first,” Frances Ross said. “It seemed unreal that such an influential and amazing person who had done so much for the country and who myself and many others had looked up to all our lives was gone. I was also scared about what her death would mean for the future of the country. Needless to say, the rest of the walk was pretty quiet.”
Ginsburg passed away due to complications with pancreatic cancer Sept. 18, Rosh Hashanah’s eve. She was 87.
A leader in the 1970s fight for women’s rights, Ginsburg broke down many misogynistic barriers in the years before her 1993 Supreme Court nomination. The first female member of the Harvard Law Review, Ginsburg was one of nine women in her Harvard class of 500. After transferring to Columbia Law School, she graduated first in her class; however, in spite of her academic excellence, no law firm would hire her because she was a woman, a mother and Jewish. Eventually, Ginsburg landed a clerkship with a judge, catalyzing her career.
Ginsburg’s work as an attorney was dedicated to promoting equality for women and all people through changing federal and state laws. As a co-founder of the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Ginsburg was involved in over 300 gender discrimination cases and won five of the six brought before the Supreme Court.
To Simon Lee ’23, Ginsburg’s college and early law accomplishments serve as an inspiration.
“The list of landmark cases she argued before the court is ridiculously long, but one that stands out to me is Reed v. Reed,” Lee said. “[Ginsburg] wrote the brief for the Plaintiff who argued that an Idaho law discriminated on the basis of gender, and the court ruled in her favor, extending the 14th Amendment equal protection clause. Her life story and the challenges she overcame are so inspirational, and I think we all have something to learn from her persistence, activism and bravery.”
Following President Bill Clinton’s nomination, Ginsburg became the second woman and the sixth Jewish person to serve on the Supreme Court. During her 27 years on the court, Ginsburg’s legal decisions protected LGBTQ+ rights to marriage, women’s reproductive rights, equal pay, disability rights, environmental rights and voting rights and mandated that the Virginia Military Institute open its doors to women. She upheld the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) this June.
Mia Hutchinson ’22 said she admired Ginsburg for her determination and leadership.
“[Ginsburg] was an example of who I want to be: a relentless woman who wouldn’t back down until change was made,” Hutchinson said. “I admire her courage to persevere in such a male-dominated environment regardless of the misogyny and anti-Semitism she faced. To me, she was a woman who helped give women like me rights, whether that be in control of our own bodies or just the overarching umbrella of making such vast strides to end gender-based discrimination.”
Associate Head of Upper School Laura Ross said that Ginsburg will be remembered for her passion and drive.
“Justice Ginsburg was a complete inspiration to me,” Laura Ross said. “I especially appreciated her emphasis on making sure one’s life’s work had a positive impact on the issues of the larger world and not just as a means to enrich oneself. She also took the long view and recognized that even in dissent she was hopefully laying the groundwork for justice in the future for the issues she believed in. I’m so sad for her family and for the legions of women and girls who looked up to her as an inspiration.”
For many students , Ginsburg’s passing represents a time of great fear and uncertainty. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his intention to confirm a new Supreme Court Justice before the election. Success in appointing President Donald Trump’s chosen nominee would create a 6-3 conservative majority within the Supreme Court, which could overturn laws previously upheld by Ginsburg.
Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit on Sept. 26. McConnell’s suggestion and a religious conservative favorite, Barrett is known for her staunch opposition of pro-abortion legislature and the Affordable Care Act.
Only two Republican Senators—Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski—have announced opposition to voting on Trump’s pick before Nov. 3.
“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” Ginsburg said to her granddaughter just days before her death, NPR reported.
Replacing Ginsburg with a conservative justice would be an insult to all that she fought for, Eve Levy ’22 said.
“[Ginsburg] knew how important it was that she stayed alive, [and] she selflessly clung to her life for that reason,” Levy said. “It concerns me to think that the Supreme Court may have a conservative majority. I hate to think that Trump and McConnell can take advantage of her death. It feels like dishonoring her memory.”
Ash Wright ’22 said her fears concerning a conservative Supreme Court have been at the forefront of her mind since she learned of Ginsburg’s passing.
“I don’t think I fully got the time to mourn before I was trying to put together resources and things to do considering how important her specific presence on the Supreme Court was and all the possibilities of things that could happen considering her passing,” Wright said. “As a [person of color] and woman, [thinking] about how Trump and the Republican party have tried to make attacks against those different groups in the past, I’m worried for how much worse [things] could get if the Supreme Court were to be conservative-leaning or if Trump were to be elected again.”
Hoping to persuade officials to leave Ginsburg’s seat open, Wright said she used social media to distribute information on how to contact Senators and Representatives.
“I also stressed the need for voting, especially following [Ginsburg’s] death, and tried to make registering [and] pre-registering more accessible to my friends and family,” Wright said. “[I] reminded some of my family members to vote [and] checked in to persuade them if they weren’t planning on voting.”
For Hutchinson, a majority conservative Supreme Court poses a danger to her own rights and the rights of others.
“As someone who relies heavily on birth control to get through daily life, I’m terrified I will no longer have access and live in extreme pain,” Hutchinson said. “As a woman of color, I’m terrified that race will become more and more enforced to create separation. I fear more discriminatory laws will be set in place and more and more hate crimes begin to shoot up. Although I am not part of the LGBTQ+ community, I am so worried that their rights to literally exist will become illegal like in some other countries. There’s so much that could happen, and frankly, I’m so scared.”
As people mourn Ginsburg’s passing and worry about the implications for the election and the future of the Supreme Court, it depends on American citizens to continue Ginsburg’s legacy, former Empower Club leader Dahlia Low ’20 said.
“Justice Ginsburg has been and always will be my biggest role model and greatest hero,” Low said. “From her decisions on landmark cases to her part in the creation of the ACLU women’s sector, I am so grateful to her for being a guiding light in the fight for equality under the law for all people. It is now up to us to continue the fight [she] started. May her memory be a revolution.”