The Notorious RBG: An American hero

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Photo by Andrew Lassetter

The Notorious RBG

James Birle, Iris Reviews Editor

On Sept.18, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away from pancreatic cancer at her home in Washington. D.C.. While RBG has left behind an empty seat on the Supreme Court of the United States, the legacy of her heroic career in public service will be long-lasting.

Her death comes at the onset of the 2020 election, as well as at a bittersweet time religiously on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. A common belief about those who die at the end of the Jewish calendar is that he or she is a zaddik or zaddika, a righteous, saintly person. As this nation mourns her death, it is certainly worth recognizing that the Notorious RBG (as she was called by an NYU law student) was an incredibly righteous and inspiring woman.

In many ways, RBG was and continues to be, the ideal American role model. She began her storied law career at Cornell, where she graduated at the top of her class, and then went on to Harvard Law School before transferring to Columbia. Not only did she graduate at the top of her class at Harvard, but she also took care of her husband Martin who had been diagnosed with testicular cancer, attended his classes for him, and raised their infant daughter, Jane. 

When you examine the life of someone like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, your troubles start to feel a lot less pressing. She was 1 of 9 women in a class of 500 at Harvard Law, forcing her to rationalize to her professors why, as a woman, she wanted to be a lawyer.  She struggled to find jobs despite recommendations from both her universities, yet she still became the first person on both Harvard and Columbia’s Law Review, the first female tenured professor at Columbia Law, the founder of the Women’s Rights Law Report, the cofounder of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project and above all, an inspiration to many. 

In 1993, after having been on the United States Court of Appeals in D.C. for 13 years, former president Bill Clinton nominated RBG to the SCOTUS as the first-ever Jewish and second-ever female justice. On the bench, she earned the nickname “The Great Dissenter” after developing a healthy habit of being extraordinarily vocal when she disagreed with her colleagues over high-profile cases attempting to protect rights like equal pay and access to safe and legal abortions. 

RBG is probably best known as a feminist icon in the U.S., but her list of achievements shows that she was so much more. Overall, she was a champion of human rights for all Americans, fighting battles to support undocumented immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community and people with disabilities. 

Speaking of battling, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the ultimate warrior, having fought cancer five times while on the bench. Despite the fact that her career was plagued with serious illnesses, she only missed a few months of service over a 27-year period. She went to great lengths to remain physically fit enough to fight for the rights of the American people, even hiring a personal trainer after her first bout with cancer. She was still able to do dozens of pushups into her late seventies. 

In a similar fashion, she refused to retire her seat until she felt she was unfit to act as a Supreme Court justice. She worked for our country until her last breath. She dedicated every moment she had left to giving a voice to those who were unfairly silenced and that alone would be enough to earn the title of hero.

It may seem unorthodox that I, a straight, white, privileged, male teenager, would be commending Ruth Bader Ginsburg for her service when she did not fight specifically for the rights of teenagers, males or straight people. However, by fighting for women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, those with disabilities and countless other marginalized groups, she served my best interest as a human being. RBG fought for me because she fought for humanity and to protect the rights of every person in this country, something every American should be able to get behind, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or age.

With the 2020 presidential election and the potential SCOTUS nomination of Amy Coney Barrett hanging in the balance, it is imperative that we remember and recognize the Notorious RBG for everything that she did for women, for the American people and for this nation’s democracy. We can’t let her life’s work go to waste.