On September 18, as it grew dark, people began gathering on the steps of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The people sang songs like “Amazing Grace.” Some placed twinkling candles on the steps. Others left flowers and messages. Many chanted softly, “RBG. RBG. RBG.”
They were there to mourn the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away at the age of 87, from pancreatic cancer.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the second-ever female justice (judge) on the US Supreme Court, the most powerful court in the United States. She served in that position from 1993 until her death on Sept. 18, 2020.
During her long career, Justice Ginsburg fought for women’s equality and human rights for everyone. She was a source of inspiration for people around the world.
Because she was a woman, she had many obstacles placed in her path by people who, at the time, felt that women should not have the same rights as men.
For instance, when she attended Harvard Law School in 1956, she was only one of nine women in her class. The rest of the class — 541 students — were men. (It wasn’t that other women weren’t smart or talented enough to get in, it was because there was a bias against women attending schools like Harvard Law, so many were turned away whereas similarly qualified men were accepted.) Ginsburg also faced discrimination because she was Jewish.
Justice Ginsburg knew that men and women are equal, and she dedicated her life to fighting for that principle. As a lawyer and later as a judge, she helped to sculpt laws that upheld the equality of women, men and other genders.
VMI versus the United States
One of her most famous rulings as a Supreme Court justice involved the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) which, in 1996, only allowed males to attend. Ginsburg wrote a ruling that persuaded the other Supreme Court justices that not allowing women into the institute violated the 14th Amendment (a US law that explains that all people in US have equal rights). Today, about 10 per cent of the students at VMI are female.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was so inspirational that people wrote books, movies and songs about her. Children went out for Hallowe’en dressed as her, wearing the black justice robes and white collars and other neck pieces she often wore. People gave her nicknames such as “Notorious RBG” or simply “RBG.”
RBG was one of the “liberal” judges on the US Supreme Court. That means she believed in things that people on the “left side” of the political spectrum believe. Some US Supreme Court judges are more on the “right side” of the political spectrum.
Filling RBG’s position
With Justice Ginsburg’s death, there is an open seat on the Supreme Court that will have to be filled by a new justice. This has caused a great deal of controversy in the United States, which is very politically divided, as people wonder whether the current president, Donald Trump (who is on the right, or conservative, side of the political spectrum) will select a new judge or leave the seat open until after the November election in the US and let the next elected president (Trump or Joe Biden, who is on the left, or liberal side of the political spectrum) make the selection.
Update: This article was updated to include the line, “Ginsburg also faced discrimination because she was Jewish.”
THINK AND DISCUSS
1. What do you know about Ruth Bader Ginsburg? What do you think she stands for? How do you know that from this article (or from research you have done on her)?
2. This article says the United States is “politically divided.” What do you think that phrase means: (a) before you look it up, and (b) after you look it up? Do you agree or disagree that the US is politically divided? Why or why not?
3. How do you think the author of this article feels about RBG and the work she did? How do you know that?
4. Pick one of these quotes (from Inc.com) by Ruth Bader Ginsburg and discuss what it means, how it exemplifies RBG and/or how you can apply it in your own life:
a) “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
b) “Reading is the key that opens doors to many good things in life. Reading shaped my dreams, and more reading helped me make my dreams come true.”
c) “In every good marriage, it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.”
5. RBG inspired millions of people around the world. Why do you think that is?
This excellent article for kids on Kiddle about Ruth Bader Ginsburg includes facts about her life and career: https://kids.kiddle.co/Ruth_Bader_Ginsburg
New York Times article about RBG: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRlEFT-44Ik
Twenty inspiring quotes from Ruth Bader Ginsburg (including the three above): https://tinyurl.com/y4lsdze6
Some of the many books about Ruth Bader Ginsburg: