RBG’s legacy a year after the death of the liberal icon

By Joan Biskupic, CNN Legal Analyst and Supreme Court Biographer

A year after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, schools and hospitals were named for her, college prizes created in her name, and artwork designed with her face.

Ginsburg’s pioneering women’s rights legacy lives on, as does the iconic lace collar design on t-shirts and knickknacks.

But there is another vestige of Ginsburg’s legacy that has gained national attention over the past year, the one left by his death on September 18, 2020, which saw President Donald Trump appoint a third conservative justice. – the one that now threatens Roe v. Wade and it persists as 83-year-old Judge Stephen Breyer deflects questions about when he will retire.

The Liberals are now reconciling the mixed legacy of Ginsburg, who died at the age of 87 after rejecting earlier calls by her own admirers to step down.

As the court shows the strength of its new conservative qualified majority, many liberals lament Ginsburg’s refusal to retire when Democratic President Barack Obama was in office and could have appointed his successor. Some critics of law professors, writing in the New York Times, the Washington Post and elsewhere, have made this denial the starting point for their disapproval of Breyer’s delayed retirement.

Other liberals, however, offer a nuanced assessment of Ginsburg’s past and America’s present.

“There’s no way she would have wanted the court to be where it is today. But we cannot go back and change that fact, ”says Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center. “I don’t think this undermines the dramatic work she has done, over decades and decades, to protect women. … Do I want her to be replaced by someone else? Absoutely. But I don’t think she’s the only one to blame for it.

Ginsburg’s memory, one year after his death from cancer, has multiple dimensions, as does his life. She first gained national notoriety as a defender of women’s rights in the trenches. She argued six cases before the Supreme Court, won five and helped ensure greater equality before the law based on sex.

The Brooklyn-born Ginsburg became a judge in 1993 and, after a reputation as a moderate jurist in a lower US appeals court, began to build up a distinctly liberal case. At the time of her death, Ginsburg was known largely for her dissent, as well as the opera and weightlifting lover she cultivated.

In 2013, a law student nicknamed her the “notorious RBG” after Ginsburg wrote a caustic dissenting opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, as the majority rolled back protections in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The meme went viral and the reserved jurist became something of a rock star, especially for young women.

A year before her death, as she fulfilled a speaking engagement in Buffalo even after discovering a recurrence of pancreatic cancer, she told the audience: “It was beyond my wildest imagination that I would become. one day the “Notorious RBG”. “

Earlier, when the Liberals urged her to retire, particularly when President Obama was blessed with a Democratic-majority Senate, Ginsburg rhetorically asked in a 2014 interview, “So tell me who the president might have appointed. this spring that you would rather see on the yard than me?

But two years later, the fundamentals of Supreme Court appointments have changed and for Ginsburg the stakes have soared. When Judge Antonin Scalia died in February 2016 and Obama appointed then-Court of Appeal judge Merrick Garland, then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, blocked any action regarding the appointment.

The following November, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton for the presidency. That meant Ginsburg, who wanted a Democratic president to nominate his successor, had to hang on until the end of 2020. She almost made it. Her final months were spent in and out of the hospital, undergoing cycles of chemotherapy and other treatments.

On October 26, just days before the November 2020 presidential election, won by Joe Biden, Trump was able to get a quick confirmation from the GOP-controlled Senate for Amy Coney Barrett, a former U.S. appeals judge and law professor at Our Lady.

Ginsburg saw this coming in his last days. She gave her granddaughter a message to be made public: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed. “

Thousands of people came to the Supreme Court to pay their respects as Ginsburg’s casket was placed atop the steps of the Supreme Court. She went on to become the first woman to lie in state on the United States Capitol.

Even then, it was evident that she was leaving behind an important track record and that she was the catalyst for a transformed court. Trump had offered Barrett the place of the Supreme Court on September 21, three days after Ginsburg’s death.

The highest court in the United States, resting for decades on a conservative-liberal 5-4 axis, with swing-voting judges often ensuring moderation, suddenly became controlled by a conservative 6-3 qualified majority. This has already caused a setback in individual rights and liberal-era precedents.

More recently, the court authorized the entry into force of a Texas ban on abortions at six weeks pregnant. The ban conflicts with Roe v. Wade of 1973, who said states cannot interfere with a woman’s choice to terminate a pregnancy before viability, that is, when the fetus can live outside the womb, at about 22-24 weeks.

Eyes turn to Breyer

Now, some left-wing rights professors have urged Breyer to consider the consequences of Ginsburg’s decision against retirement. (Like Ginsburg, Breyer was appointed by former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.)

Writing in the Washington Post, Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California-Berkeley Law School, said in May: The late Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg – and whether he wants to give President Biden the best opportunity to choose a successor who shares his values, Breyer should step down as soon as possible.

Breyer, who is currently promoting a book and brushing aside questions about any retirement plans, may believe he can avoid Ginsburg’s fate if he retires by the end of the 2021-2022 session. ‘next summer. It would be several months before the November Senate elections, when Democrats face the most obvious risk of losing their current majority with one vote in the chamber.

Breyer, appointed in 1994 and entering his 28th term next month, does not have Ginsburg celebrity status.

Katie Gibson, a professor of communication studies at Colorado State University who analyzed Ginsburg’s writings, says some of the attention of “Notorious RBG” may have diverted attention from her call to action in law, in particular to preserve abortion rights.

“I really wonder at the cost of his elevation as a heroic icon,” Gibson said. “Her legacy is certainly worth celebrating, but people have put so much weight on her shoulders, viewed her as a savior, that they may not have been prepared for this moment now that she is gone. .

“She was telling us that we have a problem, that we have to move to our states, do the necessary work to protect abortion rights,” Gibson added. “His plea for collective action got somewhat lost in the cultural frenzy that celebrated Judge Ginsburg as a heroic individual, and I think we are seeing the consequences now.”

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