What Just HappenedThe Death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sits in her chambers at the Supreme Court August 7, 2002 in Washington, D.C. Ginsburg is the second woman to be appointed to the high court. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

Our Take

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died. On September 18, Ginsburg, an associate justice on the Supreme Court, died from complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer, a disease she battled three different times over the course of her life. There’s no doubt that Ginsburg’s death has left a hole in United States politics because of her impact, and even more so because she’s loomed so large in our imaginations. Before she became a pop culture icon, however, Ginsburg committed herself to ensuring the Constitution and its application considered women and treated them as equal citizens. She developed this commitment to making the law more equitable because of the discrimination she’d experienced as a young woman herself: As one of only nine women in her class at Harvard Law School, she was denied entry into the school library. After she graduated with honors from Columbia Law School in 1959, no law firm in New York would hire her because she was a woman.

When she began teaching law at Rutgers University, she was paid less than her male peers, and similar slights persisted throughout her career. But Ginsburg wouldn’t be deterred or denied. Through a series of landmark cases, some of which she argued in front of the Supreme Court, Ginsburg forced the law to recognize how the Fifth Amendment, in particular, discriminated against women—by bringing cases with male plaintiffs. And after being appointed as a judge in 1980—and then being appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993—she continued this quest to make the law as equitable to the country’s most marginalized communities. Her written dissents became as powerful as her rulings, and over time, she became an iconic figure in pop culture, known simply as the Notorious RBG.

Though Ginsburg has been rightfully criticized, particularly for her misguided 2016 remarks about Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest, her death leaves a void that many are grieving—and others are rejoicing about. We will now watch the Republican-led Senate attempt to perform acrobatics to confirm a conservative justice—the third during Trump’s term—and entrench bigotry at the nation’s highest court, but we can channel Ginsburg’s determination to fight back against unjust systems. Here’s how we can start.

MEDIA ROUNDUP

  • On September 18, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died at her home in Washington, D.C., from cancer-related complications. She was 87. [Associated Press]
     
  • Before Ginsburg’s death, she told her granddaughter, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” [NBC News]
     
  • In the immediate aftermath of Ginsburg’s death, there was an outpouring of grief—both online and off—about the crater-sized impact of her loss. [Medium]
     
  • But in the coming weeks, there will be a lot of valid debate about Ginsburg’s legacy, particularly among feminists from different generations and schools of thought. [New York Times]
  • Ginsburg’s body will rightfully lie in state at the Supreme Court on September 23 and 24, and she will then lie in repose in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol on September 25. [CBS News]

  • Before she’s interred at a private ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery next week, the Senate might be holding confirmation hearings to replace her, defying their own rule that a new Supreme Court justice not be confirmed in the final year of a president’s term. [Slate]
     
  • After Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016—nine months before Obama’s term ended—Senate Republicans refused to allow the then-president to fill the vacant seat. “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” Mitch McConnell infamously said. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” [Politico]
     
  • As to be expected, McConnell has walked back his argument against filling the seat of a justice this close to an election, saying that “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.” [Washington Post]
     
  • Trump has vowed to fill Ginsburg’s vacant seat with a woman—though she will likely be a conservative woman who will seek to gut Roe v. Wade and determine the outcome of the forthcoming presidential election, if the results are contested. [USA Today, CBS News]
     
  • Though Republicans control the Senate, there’s still a high likelihood that senators facing tough reelection bids will block the body from voting on a new Supreme Court justice. [Vox]

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WHAT YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW

  • Donate to ActBlue, a nonprofit organization that specifically helps Democratic candidates build small-dollar fundraising platforms. [ActBlue]

  • Flipping the Senate from majority Republican to majority Democrat will have lasting impacts on judges (and other executive branch figures). Donate to a Senate race near you or in a state with a more contentious race than your home state. [Flip the Senate, How We Flip the Senate]

  • Contact your senator and demand that they refuse to confirm a new Supreme Court justice until after the 2020 election. [Indivisible]

  • Mitch McConnell is ahead in the polls in Kentucky, but registering new voters, especially those who were previously disenfranchised, is crucial to expanding the state’s electorate. Donate or volunteer to help register voters in the state and train future candidates. [We Are Kentuckians]

  • Help ensure that your state has safety measures in place so people can vote safely in November, particularly as COVID-19 concerns increase. [Brennan Center for Justice]

  • If your state has an anti-gerrymandering bill up for vote in this coming election, learn more about the bill and get involved by advocating for its passage to your local representatives and in your community. [Unite America, Common Cause]

  • If you’re a U.S. citizen currently living outside of the United States, you can get involved in your local Democrats Abroad chapter. Many are currently looking for volunteers to man phone banks or for help with their get out the vote efforts. [Democrats Abroad]

  • If you’re currently in the United States, find a phone-banking volunteer opportunity close to you or for your home state (or in a heavy swing state nearby) and register to get involved in the last 43 days before the election. [Swing Left]

  • If you’re eligible to vote in the United States, check to see if you’re still registered; if you’re not—or you’ve been purged from your state’s voter rolls—register to vote. Databases like Ballotpedia can help you research who to vote for. [Vote, Ballotpedia]

  • There are nine days left to respond to the 2020 Census if you haven’t already, so complete the census today. The more people who complete the census, the more accurately communities will be politically represented. [Census.gov]

  • Abortion rights are once again at risk, which increases the need for abortion funds. Donate to help people with wombs secure the abortions they need. [National Network of Abortion Funds]

  • If, after all this, you’re still raging, consider donating to Bitch Media today or joining The Rage, a community of folks reclaiming their anger and supporting independent feminist media. [Bitch Media]

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