As an associate justice of our nation’s highest court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg set herself apart as a true champion of the little guy, as it were. Her decisions and writings made her positions clear on many decisions that affected immigrants and minorities — demographic groups that comprise the majority of the Rio Grande Valley’s people.
Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18, at age 87 from cancer that had spread from her pancreas to other parts of her body, has been lauded, even lionized by people across the political spectrum. Chief Justice John Roberts, who was on opposing sides of Ginsburg on many Supreme Court decisions, hailed her as a “justice of historic stature.” He expressed “confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as … a tireless and resolute champion of justice.”
Most obituaries note that she was a strong advocate for women’s rights — indeed, she said her advocacy came from her own experience facing gender discrimination. She was the top-ranked graduate of her law class at Columbia University, but as a woman and mother she was unable to land a single job offer. That led her to work for the American Civil Liberties Union where she co-founded the Women’s Rights Project. She won many key gender discrimination cases, many times showing how they also affected men.
Ginsburg never felt the battle for equal rights had been won; it’s worth noting that she is the very first woman to lie in state at our nation’s Capitol.
She had an affinity for the struggles of minorities, seeing herself as a minority first as a woman, second as a Jew who faced anti-Semitism and thirdly on the Supreme Court, where throughout her 17-year tenure she and other liberal-minded justices were always outnumbered by conservative justices.
Thus, many of her most notable statements appeared in impassioned dissents. In the 2014 Hobby Lobby decision that allows companies to cite religious grounds in denying insurance coverage for birth control and other matters, Ginsburg turned the rationale around and asserted that the majority was allowing discrimination by penalizing workers who didn’t hold the same religious convictions as their employers.
On immigration, Ginsburg was part of the majority that denied President Trump’s efforts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals implemented by Barack Obama, and the majority that ruled immigration is not a state matter and states can’t pass laws that authorize police offers to check immigration status or detain people suspected of illegal residency. She also opposed holding immigrants indefinitely, even if our government couldn’t find a country willing to take them. In one dissent she argued that immigrants accused of crimes have the same right to bond hearings as any other person.
Her dissent in the ruling that ended federal monitoring for Voting Rights Act compliance noted that it was “like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
Ginsburg justified her passionate writing, saying that even when she was unable to build a majority for her opinions, she hoped her words might influence future justices on cases that were still to come.
It’s likely that those hopes will be realized, and her influence will be felt in American laws, and those of us who live under them, for a long time.