Architect of justice

SPU community reflects on the passing of justice icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Hailey Echan, Features Editor

Because of marches, protests, and an empowerment of women to raise their voice, strides have been made within women’s rights movements in the last few decades. 

Getting to the point of equality that exists today would not have been possible without Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away from complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer in her home in Washington D.C. on Sept. 18th, 2020 at the age of 87.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg fought over the course of her career for gender equality.
(Supreme Court of the United States)

As a Supreme Court Justice, Ginsburg used her position of power to fight for the women’s rights movement for decades. During her career, her impact stretched much beyond the world of politics and policies. Here at Seattle Pacific University, faculty and students mourn her death as well as the loss for the women’s rights movement. 

Professor of Sociology, Karen Snedker, reflected on how influential Ginsburg had been in her own life. 

While I was in college she was appointed to the Supreme Court. As a college student I was studying pre-law and planning to attend law school in the near future, and she was an important intellectual figure,” Snedker said over email. “I also admired her for her peer marriage and attempt to balance her many statuses and positions as judge, wife, mother, daughter, colleague and friend.”

As people mourn her death, it is recognized that her influence and impact are still very much alive.

“RBG’s legacy will be felt for generations. She was a towering figure with a long career before the court and as a member of the court, advocating for women’s rights,” Snedker said. She was a clear defender of gender equality and pushed for the full potential of the 14th Amendment –to provide equal protection to both men and women – to be realized.”

For junior nursing major Grace Haugen, Ginsburg became a role model and icon. 

“RBG set an example for me of what it looks like to be an advocate for women, equality, and justice,” Haugen said. “RBG also showed me how important it is to fight to amplify our voices as women and to amplify the voices of those who are not being heard.” 

As the death of RBG brought devastation upon many, Dr. Alissa Walter, Assistant Professor of History, is reminded to celebrate her life as well as her accomplishments. 

“If we take a step back and view the legacy of Justice Ginsberg in a broader historical context, we can honor and celebrate all of the legal precedents for gender-based equality that she helped establish and that will continue to influence rulings by the court in the future,” Walter said via email.

Walter acknowledges that upcoming generations have not only looked up to Ginsburg as a role model, but also as an icon within our culture. 

“As a cultural icon, we know that her memory will continue to galvanize and inspire another generation of activists who are also fighting for equality before the law,” Walter said. 

What will happen to the political climate after the loss of Ginsburg is unknown at this time, but Walter is hopeful that her legacy will continue to encourage change to happen through those who believed and supported her throughout her career. 

“We can be encouraged when we remember that social movements for change are always fought and won by the collective work of many different kinds of activists, not by a single person,” Walter said. “Our country will miss Justice Ginsberg deeply, but we can take heart that the larger movement for justice and equality continues.” 

Ginsburg did not start nor end the fight for women’s rights, but played a pivotal role in furthering their agenda and opening doors for others to speak their voice. 

Both in her career as a Supreme Court Justice and a lawyer, Ginsburg accomplished more than any other woman in her field: from becoming the first justice to officiate a same-sex marriage, the first female Jewish Supreme Court Justice, making strides in the fight for gender equality, overcoming sexism personally, and so much more.

The Roberts Court, November 30, 2018. Seated, from left to right: Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel A. Alito. Standing, from left to right: Justices Neil M. Gorsuch, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Brett M. Kavanaugh. (Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme)

No matter what end of the political spectrum people fall on, there is no denying that Ginsburg was an architect in the fight for women’s rights and equality within the political system in our country. 

“I see my advocacy as part of an effort to make the equality principle everything the founders would have wanted it to be if they weren’t held back by the society in which they lived and particularly the shame of slavery,” Ginsburg said in a WNYC Interview. “I don’t think my efforts would have succeeded had it not been for the women’s movement that was reviving in the United States and more or less all over the world at the time.”

As her time on earth came to an end, it is important to recognize how Ginsburg fulfilled the role of becoming the woman she always wanted to be. 

“I pray that I may be all that (my mother) would have been had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve and daughters are cherished as much as sons,” Ginsburg said in her Supreme Court acceptance speech.