“My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.” - Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The Notorious RBG. Even if you’re not that interested in American politics it is more than likely you have seen her name and face at some point in pop culture. From RBG inspired graffiti to in-depth biopics and feature films, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s image evolved to become one of the most important and identifiable cultural and feminist icons of our generation.
News of her death on September 18th not only spurred global mourning and grief for the loss of one of America’s most influential politicians, but also intensified an already uncomfortable political climate. With under seven weeks left before election day, her death has instigated a political fight over the future of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Aged 87, Ginsburg passed due to complications of metastatic pancreas cancer. According to her daughter, just days before her passing, Ginsburg stated, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed”.
Trump commented on her death saying “She led an amazing life. What else can you say?”, a slightly different tone compared to his 2016 tweet calling for her retirement, tweeting “her mind is shot”. Trump has also promptly begun endorsing the appointment of conservative judge Amy Coney Barret as the next Supreme Court nomination. Not only has this shifted the public narrative, minimising a heroic and historical lifetime of anti-discrimination advocacy whilst instead focusing on another Trump headline, but has once again highlighted the disparity of Trump’s political regime.
Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, has made it clear that he will attempt to support and push through Trump’s conservative endorsement, even if he is to lose the upcoming election. This is a stark contrast to his actions in 2016, when he refused to consider then-president Barack Obama’s own Supreme Court nominee, delaying the decision for almost a year and using the upcoming presidential election as a strategic excuse. A key reason for this opposing reaction is the current balance of the Supreme Court. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death provides Republican conservatives a 6-3 majority.
Whilst Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death will play a crucial role in the future of American Politics, her passing has highlighted how influential she was across the world. Ginsburg incited a revolution, not only changing the world for American women but changing the face of gender equality. Throughout her legal crusade Ginsburg strategically picked male plaintiffs to illustrate how discrimination effects both men and women and of the six cases she brought before the Supreme Court throughout the 1970s, she won five.
Throughout her career, Ginsburg defied stereotypes whilst working her way up to a position within the Supreme Court. Ginsburg became the first female tenured professor at Columbia Law School, appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and spent 27 years on the Supreme Court bench.
Ginsburg’s progressive opinions were not only centred around sex-based discrimination, with much of her career dedicated to fighting for the rights of the LGBT community, undocumented people, and disabled people whilst also expanding voting rights.
Ginsburg was the first justice to officiate a same-sex marriage in 2013, was one of only four female justices in history, and the first female Jewish Supreme Court Justice. She not only shaped American history, but influenced numerous generations, becoming a defining role model for female empowerment, justice, and perseverance.
“Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time”, she was quoted.
Ginsburg’s legacy in pop culture was cemented by New York University Law student, Shana Knizhnik, who created a Tumblr dedicated to “The Notorious RBG”. This not only aided in Ginsburg’s transcendence from the legal sphere to mainstream pop culture, but shaped Ginsburg’s identifiable image as a fashion icon. Ginsburg utilised fashion to communicate her political opinions, incorporating a wide range of collars with her legal robes. In an interview with Katie Couric, Ginsburg revealed she had both a dissenting collar and a majority opinion collar, stating “this is my dissenting collar…it looks fitting for dissents”.
This indisputable legacy of Ginsburg must not be forgotten amidst the current political climate. Whilst the upcoming election is undoubtedly important, Ginsburg’s death shouldn’t be overshadowed by the future state of the Supreme Court. Her influence and accomplishments in the face of gender equality under the law deserve to be celebrated, not overshadowed by a man she once called a “faker”.
This article was originally published in the 2020 issue, NASTY.