Throughout the primary season, the defining issues of the presidential race were healthcare, gun control and climate change. However, coronavirus and police reform have since dominated the national conversation. While this election season is unique without a doubt, the drastic flip left millions of Americans questioning: What more could possibly alter the election’s outcome?
On Sept. 18, 2020, liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lost her long battle to pancreatic cancer. A few days later, she was the first woman to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. This unfortunate, tragic loss erupted into a national debate over the appointment of her new predecessor to the Supreme Court — an already volatile issue.
Ginsburg spent her entire career fighting for gender equity as an independent lawyer and eventually SCOTUS. Her success did not come easy, though: While studying at Harvard and Columbia Law, she was tasked with raising a child on top of caring for her husband Marty Ginsburg, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1956. She encountered relentless adversity and gender discrimination while pursuing her professional degree. Ginsburg once famously stated: “I became a lawyer when women were not wanted by the legal profession.” After earning her degree, she began her ascent to the peak of the legal mountain and seized opportunity after opportunity to advocate for women’s rights.
Ginsburg originated a strategy to present gender biases that disadvantaged men rather than women to prove to judges that such inequalities existed. Dr. Louise Davidson-Schmich, professor of political science at UM, gave an example: “One case Ginsburg won at the Supreme Court level involved a man who lost his wife and wasn’t permitted to receive extra social security benefits to care for minor children, as a woman whose husband died would have been eligible for. The Supreme Court ruled all Americans should be entitled to the same social security benefits regardless of sex.” Davidson-Schmich also cited Ginsburg’s involvement in the 1976 Supreme Court case Craig v. Boren as directly impacting her personal life, because there were formerly separate minimum legal drinking ages for men and women during her lifetime. “That I was able to legally go to bars with male peers in college or serve on juries is owed to her activism,” she said.
In 1993, former President Bill Clinton appointed Ginsburg as the second woman judge on the U.S. Supreme Court. Serving more than 27 years on the bench, she protected women’s reproductive rights and advocated for equal pay. As justice, she was famous for her iconic, hard-hitting dissents and found support in today’s generations of youth. “Without RBG and her trailblazing for women’s rights issues, Gen Y and Z wouldn’t be growing up in a society where women can register for credit cards or apply for loans under their own names,” said Maddy Joyce, a sophomore political science major at UM. Posters and t-shirts sporting the phrases “I dissent” and “Notorious RBG” became wildly popular — and each time one of Ginsburg’s opinions was published, the internet exploded with memes and tweets to cheer her on.
Ginsburg never gave up. She refused to retire after the 2017 presidential inauguration and loved working out with her trainer at the Supreme Court’s private gym. While her death may not have been a surprise considering her deteriorating physical health, the news was nonetheless heart-wrenching. Rachel Stempler, president of UM Young & College Democrats, was filled with “sadness and fear” when she first found out. “I was devastated because America had lost a titan in the battle for gender equality, justice and democracy” she said. “I was and still am afraid of how her death and vacant seat will be weaponized for political purposes.”
Ginsburg told her granddaughter before she passed: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” But on Sept. 26, President Trump hastily nominated Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative appellate court judge, to fill Ginsburg’s spot. Republican leaders have already announced that a senate confirmation hearing will be issued before the election.
Stempler believes both parties will use Ginsburg’s loss as a tool to “energize their bases for radically different purposes.” It’s unclear as to whether or not Barrett will be confirmed by the senate, however. It seems as though she’s met the required number of votes.
Ginsburg will be forever honored and remembered for her tenacity and steadfast obligation to the truth. Regardless of whether her ultimate dying wish is respected, Americans will not stop working toward gender equality. In the wise, eloquent and spirited words of RBG, “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”
words & illustration_catherine mcgrath