In a statement made just before her death, US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wasn’t allowed to reminisce on her life’s work as she deserved to, but instead worried that it might be buried with her.
I, like many women around the world, was saddened to hear of the death of US Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg yesterday. She was an a feminist icon who made a significant impact progressing womens and minority rights not just in the US but inspiring movements around the world through her determined spirit, supernatural work ethic, and famously forceful dissents. Not to mention her excellent collection of peter pan collars.
But the thing that truly broke my heart was the message she dictated to her granddaughter in the days before her death. She said that her “most fervent wish” was that her seat on the US Supreme Court not be filled under the current administration, and instead held off until 2021 (when, presumably she’s hoping there might be a new president or Democratic Senate to nominate a left-leaning judge).
Just days before her death, as her strength waned, Ginsburg dictated this statement to her granddaughter Clara Spera: "My most fervent wish is that i I will not be replaced until a new president is installed." https://t.co/tmqt9wUt1k
— NPR Politics (@nprpolitics) September 18, 2020
The political balance of the Supreme Court is significant because while judges are elected by presidents, unlike them they hold a lifetime tenure and can impact and guide federal lawmaking long after presidents have come and gone. In recent years, it has tilted heavily towards the right thanks to Trump-era additions of Neil Gorsuch (who was selected at the beginning of Trump’s first term after the Republican-held Senate refused to accept Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland as the next Supreme Court judge during his final year in office) and Brett Kavanaugh. RBG, as the most liberal figure on the court, had plenty of reasons for concern.
But this woman has done more for so many liberal movements in the last fifty years than almost any other. She stood at the forefront of the battles for gender equality, abortion rights, gay and trans rights, right up to and including her October 2019 Supreme Court vote to protect Dreamers (children born in the US to illegal immigrant parents) and tie LGBTQI+ employee rights to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
She deserved to move toward death with a sense of accomplishment and a job done well. She deserved to die remembering all that she changed, the real and substantial difference she made to millions of women and minority groups. Instead, she left this world feeling that her life’s work was crumbling along with her body, made mortal by her death.
To know death is coming is terrifying enough. To worry about how your loved ones will manage and survive without you is terrifying enough. To wonder what happens after death is almost too much. She should not have been burdened by the weight of the next generation of governing as well.
This is what courage and bravery look like.
— Diane Foley (@Tantele) September 18, 2020
When she realised she wouldn’t live to see a new president, she felt so cornered, so terrified by what her death would mean to the future of the US, she felt compelled to beg. From a woman who moved through most of her life with so much dignity and self-respect, it’s the desperation in her request that cuts deepest.
She knew it would fall on deaf ears. She knew that the credit she amounted through her life’s work had somehow left her in negative equity with the people in power. Yet she found the courage to ask it all the same, humbling herself, screaming into a void for some humanity to abide by a dying woman’s wish, all the while with the certainty that no compassion is coming.
It’s almost too painful to look at.
Featured image courtesy of the Supreme Court of the United States
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