Since her appointment in 1993 to the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsberg has been a warrior for gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights. Her passing leaves many cases open to appeal, putting the rights of many at risk of being lost on the national level. While she was a staunch advocate for gender equality and queer rights, her track record in regards to American Black, Indigenous, People of Color was less than ideal. It is important that Ginsberg’s entirety of a character is remembered, not just what fits in with the idea of a liberal justice who constantly fought for the rights of women, and that included the mention of her less than stellar record on cases regarding racial minorities.
Ginsberg has a tumultuous road to becoming the Justice she is remembered as. From family matters placing her career on hold to caring for her husband Martin through his cancer diagnosis as a law student. Her ascension was a unique one, as a woman, and was wrought with gender discrimination and sexism. This later saw her in teaching and advocacy positions, arguing six separate cases before the highest court in the land on the topic of gender discrimination. This notoriety in both the legal and academic worlds saw her appointment to the US Court of Appeals by President Carter in 1980 and her eventual appointment to Supreme Court Justice in 1993 by President Clinton (Oyez).
From the beginning of her career on the bench, Ginsberg maintained the role of advocate. Her most notable cases regarding gender discrimination include United States v. Virginia Military Institute, Ledbetter v. Goodyear, and Obergefell v. Hodges. These cases all included instances of discrimination on the basis of sex. US v. Virginia Military Institute saw a state owned institution deny women from attending, a clear violation of the fourteenth amendment’s equal protection clause, setting a precedent for all state institutions to not discriminate based on gender. Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire saw Ginsberg in the dissenting minority. Lilly Ledbetter sued her employer, Goodyear Tire, for paying her less than her male counter parts. The case was reversed by the Supreme Court as it occurred outside the 180 day limitation period. She criticized the all male majority, stating “The court does not comprehend or is indifferent to the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination”. In Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Ginsberg was in the 5-4 majority, voting to allow same sex couples the right to marry in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The case in and of itself was a case on gender discrimination, as the majority opinion by Justice Kennedy states, as the gender of the two individuals who wished to get married was what blocked them from legal marriage. This again was a violation of the 14th amendment’s equal protection clause (Oyez).
Even when Justice Ginsberg was in the dissenting minority of a case, she was staunch in her opinions and advocacy for gender equality, earning her the nickname “The Notorious RBG”. While she is a hero for feminists, specifically those who identify as Caucasian, Justice Ginsberg held a mixed history on the topics of race. She was a major critic of football player Colin Kaepernick, who chose to kneel during the national anthem in protest of police brutality. Her office, clerking, and general staff lacked much of the diversity that is called for in the modern day. Her decisions regarding indigenous land rights, according to the Ohio State Law Journal, describes how Justice Ginsberg was closed off to the traditions of Native American and their value of the land as a member of the American Civil Liberty Union’s executive committee in Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez (The Marshall Project) (Ohio State Law Journal).
Justice Ginsberg is a perfect example appreciating figures in the context of their whole body of work. Was she a warrior for gender equality? Yes. Was she the perfect advocate justice she is often portrayed as in popular culture? No. However, Justice Ginsberg did so much good for the United States, setting precedents that allow for queer people to marry and gender discrimination to be lessened. She was not perfect, but it is impossible to find a player in the production of history that was.
Her dying wish was that she would not be replaced on the bench until after the results of the 2020 election. President Trump has openly stated he will do everything in his power to place a new justice in her place. While the president may not respect Justice Ginsberg’s final wish and legacy, the United States will hold her as an icon of gender equality in its history. May Justice Ginsberg’s memory be eternal and may her legacy never be forgotten.