A reflection on the death of a great woman and a great judge
Letter to the Editor | Monday, September 21, 2020
The only public figure I have ever idolized is Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
I have two pair of RBG earrings (one of her face and one of just the dissent collar). I have RBG socks, T-shirts, a mug and even — in 2020 — masks. Rather ironically, I even have two Christmas ornaments of the late Jewish jurist. I dressed up as RBG for Halloween one year — complete with dissent collar and gavel. And last year, a friend saw someone taking down the “RBG” documentary poster at a movie theatre and procured it for me. I’ve seen that movie and “On the Basis of Sex” twice in theaters. I’ve read “Sisters in Law,” a book about her and Sandra Day O’Connor’s mirror journeys to the bench, and I currently have “In Her Own Words,” an audio-autobiography read by Justice Ginsburg downloaded on my phone.
In short, she is my hero.
And yes, I admire her for all of the reasons people have already written about all over the internet: She was a champion of women’s rights; she finished law school while caring for a sick husband and a baby and still made law review; she was never afraid to speak her mind and excelled in the face of adversity. But those aren’t the only reasons she is my inspiration.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is my hero in many ways because she didn’t want to be a hero. When asked how she wanted to be remembered she said, “[As] someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability.” We should all strive towards such a goal. She fought for what she believed was right, not through rage and shouting, nor through disparaging those who disagreed. She fought with reason. She fought with empathy. And she fought with an open hand of welcome to anyone willing to join her.
RBG famously said, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
These words run in stark contrast to what we see today: each side claiming the moral high-ground, speaking only to those they agree with and flinging vitriol at those they don’t. We’re not trying to get others to join us. We’re trying to justify our position.
Just look at Mitch McConnell’s statement released on the night the world learned we’d lost Justice Ginsburg. He wrote four sentences about her life. He wrote six about filling the vacancy. He could not find the empathy to let a nation mourn for a single day. He could not find the decency to let the question lie, even just for a few hours. He had to justify his position.
Justice Ginsburg died on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. It is the first of the High Holy Days, which last ten days and end on Yom Kippur — the Day of Atonement. The ten days between are known as the Ten Days of Repentance — a time to ask God for forgiveness for those you’ve wronged and making up for it with good deeds and charitable donations.
When I was ten years old, my grandfather died of cancer on my birthday. My mom said she thought he chose that day on purpose because he knew we’d always be joyful on that day and he would want to be remembered with joy. I think my mom was right. And I think RBG chose Rosh Hashanah.
While she never wanted to be a hero, Justice Ginsburg knew what would happen after she passed. In fact, her final wish was about the vacancy she left on the court. “My most fervent wish is that I not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
These words, the last of a great woman and jurist, might fall on deaf ears any other time of the year. But on this, the beginning of a new year at the start of the holiest of weeks, a time specifically for reflection and atonement, maybe — just maybe — those in power will open their ears. Maybe they will hear the voice of a dying woman hoping her legacy would be preserved. Maybe instead of justifying their position they will listen to hers.
In this final wish, she was fighting so as to lead others to her. She was using whatever she had to do the very best she could.
The least we could do is listen.
third-year law student
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.