Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg!
What a life! What a woman! What a lawyer and judge! What a legacy!
In 1996, she wrote the majority opinion in “United States v. Virginia”. The all-male admissions policy at the Virginia Military Institute was being challenged. This sentence in the opinion encapsulates most of her beliefs and work:
“As earlier stated, see supra, at 24, generalizations about “the way women are,” estimates of what is appropriate for most women, no longer justify denying opportunity to women whose talent and capacity place them outside the average description.”
Earlier on in the opinion, she had written:
“…state actors may not rely on ‘overbroad’ generalizations to make ‘judgments about people that’ are likely to . . . perpetuate historical patterns of discrimination…”.
Her fiery dissents were however even more remarkable and the one she wrote in the 2013 case “Shelby County vs Holder” made the then law student, Shana Knizhnik, coin the nickname “Notorious RBG”. The decision in that case gutted the Voting Rights Act and has made it easier to prevent minorities from voting in some jurisdictions. One sentence in that dissent always comes to mind:
“Just as buildings in California have a greater need to be earthquake proofed, places, where there is greater racial polarization in voting, have a greater need for prophylactic measures to prevent purposeful race discrimination.”
Or in her dissent in the case Ledbetter vs Goodyear in 2006:
“The court does not comprehend or is indifferent to the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination”.
She was smart, passionate, and dogged in her fight for the rights of those that society marginalized. Her work for women’s rights will be part of her lasting legacy.
It is the hallmark of a great life when on the passing of that life, all (including friend and foe), agree that the loss has created a void. Her position on the court will be filled but she leaves behind big shoes that many may find impossible to fit in.
What a loss!
Rest in Peace, Notorious RBG.
By Nana Dadzie Ghansah an anesthesiologist who lives and works in Lexington Kentucky