EDITORIAL: Ruth Bader Ginsburg z”l: One of us, who rocked America
September 27, 2020
Ruth Bader Ginsburg may have been only 5’1, but she was a giant. Not the kind of giant you see at the top of the beanstalk, nor the kind that becomes memorable by living infamously. No, she was a giant because of the way she changed the country for the better, and because of the legacy she left from years of fighting for what she believed.
A strong women’s rights advocate, she worked tiressly to prove that gender discrimination was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause in the Constitution. Perhaps one of her most famous cases was United States V. Virginia, where she fought successfully for women to be able to attend the Virginia Military Institute — a publicly funded military college which at the time only admitted men.
She wasn’t just an advocate for women, however. Justice Ginsberg, who died Sept. 18, sought to achieve equality for everyone. She was part of the 2015 ruling to legalize same-sex marriage in all states. And earlier, as an attorney arguing before the Supreme Court in Weinberger V. Wiesenfeld, she represented a widowed man who was denied Social Security benefits for himself and his son after his wife died in childbirth.
Indeed, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a giant, and though she may not have been a rapper like the Notorious B.I.G, the Supreme Court justice who became known as “Notorious RBG” was definitely a rockstar.
And she was also one of us.
The daughter of two Jews in Brooklyn, Justice Ginsburg considered her Jewish faith a strong part of her identity. After being appointed to the Supreme Court, she addressed the American Jewish Committee, saying, “I am a judge born, raised, and proud of being a Jew. The demand for justice runs through the entirety of the Jewish tradition. I hope, in my years on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States, I will have the strength and the courage to remain constant in the service of that demand.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg certainly fulfilled this wish. As a federal Appeals Court judge in 1984, a Jewish soldier wanted to wear a kippah in the military and there was a policy that banned him from doing so. His case ultimately reached the U.S appeals court, where Ginsburg joined the minority opinion in defending his right to wear a kippah at work. Though the soldier appealed to the Supreme Court after this and lost again, his case set the stage for a bill that was passed later on in Congress that allowed Jewish soldiers to wear kippot.
Aside from her historic contributions, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was known to be personally extremely strong. Grief seemed to follow her throughout her life, though she never stopped working. The day before her high school graduation, her mother died. At Harvard Law School, she took notes for her husband while he struggled through cancer.
In 2018, she broke three ribs and was back at the Court within days of her fall. Two years later, she participated in Supreme Court debate from the hospital after having a gallbladder treatment.
Tough as she may have been, however, Ginsburg was also a character. When expressing a dissenting opinion, she wore her “dissenting collar,” and when communicating her approval, she would wear her “majority opinion collar.” In 2016 she had a walk-on role in the Washington National Opera. She was close personal friends with the conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, and in 2018 she allowed herself to be filmed with her personal trainer doing her daily workout joined by Stephen Colbert.
In her 87 years on earth, Ruth Bader Ginsburg rocked America. May we all, as Jews, strive to be as persistent, ambitious and effective as she was. Baruch Dayan Emet.