As you all know by now Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away Friday night on erev (the evening of) Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). According to Jewish tradition, a person who passes on Rosh Hashanah is considered a “tzadik” – a revered person. The “Notorious RBG” as she came to be nicknamed is certainly that.
She went to Harvard Law School in an era when women were far from accepted in the legal profession. After transferring to Columbia Law School she graduated first in her class, yet found few job offers for a woman lawyer. Yet she never gave up fighting for women’s rights, and the rights of all of us, arguing six cases before the Supreme Court, and famously saying “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”
She eventually landed a seat on the United States Supreme Court. In her 27 years as a justice, was a powerful voice in such opinions as United States v. Virginia (1996)(striking down VMI’s male-only admissions policy); Olmstead v. L.C. (1999)(individuals with mental disabilities have the right to community-based housing); Bullcoming v. New Mexico (2011)(holding that chemists in DUI cases must be produced by the State for cross-examination in DUI cases), and many others. She also wrote powerful dissents in Bush v. Gore (2000); Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007)(where her dissent led to the Lilly Ledbetter Act – guaranteeing women equal pay) and many others.
What we can learn from the justices, though — beyond how to be a friend — is how to welcome debate and differences. The two justices had central roles in addressing some of the most divisive issues of the day, including cases on abortion, same-sex marriage and who would be president. Not for a moment did one think the other should be condemned or ostracized. More than that, they believed that what they were doing — arriving at their own opinions thoughtfully and advancing them vigorously — was essential to the national good. With less debate, their friendship would have been diminished, and so, they believed, would our democracy.
It is now for us to protect her legacy.