Texts, phone calls, and messages flew across Santa Barbara after news broke on Friday that beloved Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died at the age of 87 of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer. On Saturday evening, about 250 South Coast residents showed up at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse to pay their final respects to Ginsburg, joining vigils at other courthouses nationwide.
“People wanted to be with other people to just process what they were feeling,” said Luz Reyes-Martin, who helped bring the event together for the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee, along with members of the Women’s March and Planned Parenthood. “Justice Ginsburg recognized the challenges that faced working women and working mothers, and that’s one thing that really resonated about her.”
The speakers on Saturday evening covered Ginsburg’s groundbreaking work to eliminate sexual discrimination for all, not just women, and her profound effect on the Supreme Court and in Congress. Assemblymember Monique Limón outlined the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which President Obama signed after Ginsburg wrote in her 2006 dissent that only Congress could fix the equal-work-and-pay injustices redolent in the Ledbetter case.
Ginsburg was praised as a warrior for gender equality both before and after her appointment to the bench by President Bill Clinton. As a cofounder of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project in the 1970s, Ginsburg was instrumental in shaping the law itself, particularly gender equity law, taking no fewer than six gender equality cases to the Supreme Court and winning four. These cases — in their totality — effectively challenged the legality of discriminatory hiring practices justified on popular notions of traditional roles assigned to women and men.
Ginsburg famously opined that “the pedestal” upon which women found themselves placed was in reality “a cage.” She would later famously opine, “I ask for no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”
Once on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion for many groundbreaking civil rights cases, notably the one barring discrimination against female applicants to what had been the all-male Virginia Military Institute.
On the bench, she famously got along with Justice Antonin Scalia — her polar opposite on many cases — and even Justice Clarence Thomas. Ginsburg, however, made little effort to disguise her contempt for —and disbelief of — President Donald Trump, for which she later expressed muted regret. Later in life, Ginsburg’s persona would transcend into a cultural meme, becoming popularly known as “The Notorious RBG.”
With Ginsburg’s death, President Trump can now solidify the conservative majority on the bench from a five-vote majority to six. Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have made clear they intended to push for a vote before November’s election with only 46 days before ballots must be cast. McConnell infamously blocked any hearings whatsoever on the appointment of Merrick Garland by President Barack Obama, arguing that with only eight months before the 2016 election, the appointment should be left to Obama’s predecessor.
Democrats have sought to highlight what to them seems an excruciating hypocrisy, but to no effect. To block Trump from nominating Ginsburg’s successor — something she inveighed against on her deathbed — Democrats will need to win the votes of at least four Republican Senators. To date, they have nailed down just two, and at this writing, it appears the Senate Republicans have the votes necessary to approve whomever Trump announces to fill Ginsburg’s shoes this Saturday. However, Nancy Pelosi says she has not ruled out a second impeachment of Trump as a way to stall the nomination.
The upcoming nomination fight for a new justice and the November elections were central to remarks by many gathered at the courthouse Saturday, especially Jenna Tosh, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood California Central Coast. “We should be able to mourn the loss of Justice Ginsburg without counting votes. It’s not only sad, but it’s terrifying,” Tosh said. “We all know what’s at stake: racial justice, LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights, the right to abortion itself.” Tosh called the politicking, the pandemic, and the faltering economy “too much.” But Ginsburg prepared us for this moment, she said.
“Every time she wrote the words ‘I dissent,’ she inspired us; she kept us fighting,” Tosh said. “She has given us all the tools we need in this moment and the inspiration to keep fighting. So we will keep fighting so she can rest.”
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