Liberal justice passes away shortly before the presidential election
On Sept. 18, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died of pancreatic cancer at age 87 at her home in Washington, D.C. She served as one of the nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court for more than 27 years.
Ginsburg was nominated to the nation’s highest court by President Bill Clinton in 1993. She made history as the first Jewish woman––and only the second woman––ever to sit on the court when she was confirmed later that year by the U.S. Senate with a 96-to-three vote.
In the days following Ginsburg’s death, Blair senior Abby Kusmin took command of organizing a community vigil at the Red Brick Courthouse in Rockville. Kusmin, a leader of Sunrise Silver Spring––a local chapter of the national climate justice organization Sunrise Movement––said that the Sept. 23 event aimed to inspire youth to respond to Ginsburg’s passing by taking action instead of mourning. “I hope [it was a way] to get people to take action at that moment and realize [not to just say], ‘Oh, let's be sad, mad and hopeless,’” she said. “I hope it was kind of an impetus.”
Throughout her tenure on the court, many recognized Ginsburg as a feminist icon. She fought for gender equality, reproductive rights, and other liberal policies that altered the course of American jurisprudence.
In 1996, Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion in United States v. Virginia, ruling that the male-only admission policy at the Virginia Military Institute violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. “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,” she wrote.
English teacher Beth Hanak believes that this ruling has helped make America a more equitable place. “School should reflect the public it serves. [A] school that only admits men does not do that,” she said.
Ginsburg’s legacy as a progressive justice extends farther than women’s rights. In 2015, Ginsburg also helped lead the court in a landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.
Senior Molly Howard, who is bisexual, remembered the day the ruling was issued and described the impact it had on her life. “It was a really important day for me,” Howard said. “[I knew] no matter who I ended up with, no matter what I decided to identify as, I would be able to marry whoever I wanted.”
Ginsburg, however, wasn’t a hero to all. In June, she sided with the conservative wing of the court in a 7-2 decision ruling to uphold the construction of a natural gas pipeline that would run underneath the Appalachian Trail and encroach the National Park Service’s ownership of the area. In 2016, Ginsburg also criticized NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and racial injustice.
On Sept. 26, President Donald Trump nominated conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacant seat on the court. Barrett was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit by Trump in 2017 and attracted support from social conservatives because of her strict interpretation of the Constitution.
If Barrett is confirmed, the court will have a strong six-to-three conservative majority, which has left many worrying that liberal decisions that Ginsburg was a part of––including same-sex marriage and upholding the right to an abortion––could be overturned.
As a federal judge, Barrett has ruled on two abortion cases, both times favoring the restriction of access to an abortion. In Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, Inc. in 2019, the Seventh Circuit voted to overturn an Indiana law that would require minors seeking an abortion to have parental consent––effectively expanding abortion rights. Barrett joined the dissent and said that the law should have been allowed to take effect.
Blair senior Abbas Islaw believes that Trump’s nomination of Barrett just one week after Ginsburg’s death was inappropriate and unfair. “I thought it was personally pretty disrespectful. He didn’t have to go through with [Ginsburg’s] last wish, but he completely disregarded it,” Abbas said, referencing a note Ginsburg wrote in her final days stating, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
Like Islaw, senior Bamlak Fekade, is disappointed that partisanship has taken over one of the most important judicial processes in the country. “It’s kind of sad that [political parties] have control over Supreme Court nominations… people will vote for [candidates] whether they have an ‘R’ next to their name or a ‘D’ next to their name,” he said. “Political alignment diminishes what democracy was meant to be.”