Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg served on the U.S. Supreme Court for 27 years. She died Sept. 18 at the age of 87 after a struggle with pancreatic cancer. She will be remembered as one of the most influential Supreme Court justices in modern history, advocating for gender equity and pay parity throughout much of her career.
As in many law schools across the country, Ginsburg’s influence is palpable at Georgia State Law. Since its founding in 1982, the College of Law has given thousands of working parents the opportunity to earn a law degree. Four of Georgia State Law’s deans have been women. Dean Marjorie Fine Knowles and Ginsburg were close friends. That connection led to Ginsburg delivering the semi-annual Henry J. Miller Lecture in 2003 for the College of Law’s 20th anniversary. Her topic was “A Few Little-Known Pages from Supreme Court History.” WATCH HERE.
“Justice Ginsburg’s career as a lawyer and a judge changed millions of lives,” said Leslie E. Wolf, interim dean and Distinguished University Professor. “In 1968, my mother could not hold a credit card in her name. In 2020, my daughter cannot imagine such limitations.”
Her civil rights impact was not limited to gender equity. Justice Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion in Olmstead v. LC, considered the Brown v. Board of Education for people with disabilities. Current law students in the year-long Olmstead Disability Rights Clinic course work to implement the vision of equity for people with disabilities outlined in that case.
Ginsburg modeled for many how to work with people who may not share the same moral and ethical beliefs. Ginsburg and the late Justice Antonin Scalia were often on opposite sides of Court opinions and politics, but they were lifelong friends. At Georgia State Law, we see ideological differences as grounds for insightful conversations that will help students develop the critical thinking skills that will set them apart as lawyers.
As the nation anticipates who will be the next Supreme Court justice, we asked College of Law faculty members reflect on Justice Ginsburg’s career and what comes next for the Supreme Court.
Justice Ginsburg’s Legacy
Lauren Sudeall, “Justice Ginsburg was a trailblazer — as a lawyer advocating for equal rights and as a judge deciding landmark cases regarding the same. I think it’s important to note that she saw her work not as focused solely on equal rights for women, but on ensuring that neither sex would be confined by stereotype. Her work, character and courage of conviction set an important example for so many in the legal field and beyond.”
Andrea Curcio, “Justice Ginsburg championed equality and did it with grace, incredible hard work and strategic thinking. It is hard to imagine another jurist who can fill her shoes.”
Anthony Kreis, “With the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we lost a national treasure. The Constitution is a more egalitarian document because of her work before she became a justice and doubly so because of her work while on the Court. While there will be a tense political fight coming over the future of her seat, we cannot let that overshadow the legacy she left behind.”
Clark Cunningham, “When Justice Ginsburg gave an informal interview at last January’s annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools, she told personal stories behind several cases challenging sex-based discrimination that she won as a lawyer before being appointed to the Supreme Court. Her concern and respect for the clients she represented was impressive. For example, she told the story behind Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, the Supreme Court case involving a father who wanted to work part-time to take care of his newborn son, Jason, after his wife died in childbirth. He was denied the Social Security benefits that would have been paid if the surviving parent had been a woman. Ginsburg shared that decades later she officiated Jason’s wedding, and later, Wiesenfeld’s as well after he had found a new love.”
Lauren MacIvor Thompson, “Since 1965, when the Supreme Court made birth control legal for married women in Griswold v. Connecticut, Americans have been relatively able to freely access contraceptives. Even in the 1930s, as lower courts began to hear the earliest of birth control cases, the private rights of individuals and physicians prevailed.
But in recent years, Justice Ginsburg’s dissenting opinions had been holding only the thinnest of lines in challenges to contraceptive coverage and access. As she wrote in the most recent birth control case, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, decisions to eliminate birth control coverage based on private employers’ moral or religious objections “leaves women workers to fend for themselves” as “the Court casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests in its zeal to secure religious rights to the nth degree.”
The battle over public and private rights has long been waged over women’s bodies. In Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it also had one of its most formidable warriors for the right to privacy, autonomy, and the rights of all citizens to control their futures.”
The Future of the Supreme Court
Neil Kinkopf, “There is an urgent need to take politics out of the Supreme Court, but the courts will not be de-politicized until the people demand that they are de-politicized. If there were electoral penalties for presidents and senators who politicize the appointment process, we could solve that problem. As long as it’s a talking point for politicians that they will elect a ‘Federalist’ type or an ‘American Constitution Society’ type to the bench, the courts will be politicized.”
Eric Segall, “Because our Constitution is so hard to amend, making structural changes to the Court is difficult. But, it is not impossible. A good start would be legislation limiting the justices to18-year terms and then allowing them to sit on the lower courts. Other ways the Court’s power could be limited include legislation stripping the Court of jurisdiction and altering the retirement benefits of the justices to incentivize them to not serve too long.
“Justice Ginsburg’s death will, of course, greatly affect the last five weeks of the upcoming election. But this election should be about the serious crises facing our country caused by climate change, the pandemic, racial injustice and our economic woes. Ginsburg’s life should be celebrated. She was warm, caring and funny in her private life while also fearlessly fighting for a better and more just society as a lawyer, judge and justice. She will be sorely missed.”
Written by Kelundra Smith and Mara Thompson