Few judges will know the star status that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had in the US. RBG‘ was the subject of a feature film and a children’s book, her face is on T-shirts and her statements have appeared in countless memes on the internet. Her death is responded to as if a rock star had died: Hollywood stars tweet their condolences and people gather at the Supreme Court to burn candles and lay flowers.
With 27 years as a judge at the Supreme Court, Ginsburg was not only one of the longest-serving members, in the US she was also regarded as a progressive and feminist figurehead. Her fragile and modest stature of 1.55 m contrasted sharply with the eager legal spirit and outspoken opinions of the judge.
Presidential candidate Joe Biden and President Trump reacted earlier to Ginsburg‘s death. Trump called her a ‘great woman‘ and according to Biden she stood before them the highest American ideals:
During her career, she devoted herself to emancipation; not only for women, but also for minorities and immigrants. Her Jewish identity was at the root of this, she said two years ago. Ginsburg grew up in the United States during the Second World War. The feeling of not belonging. That you experienced oppression for no reason. That makes you more empathic towards people who do not belong, who are outsiders
In 1956, Ginsburg began her law studies at the leading University of Harvard. The somewhat shy Ginsburg was one of nine women admitted to the course that year, while her class consisted of around 500 students. Ginsburg and her fellow students were asked on what grounds they thought they could take a man’s place.
When she graduated, Ginsburg was one of the best in her class, yet a job in law was not forthcoming. I didn’t stand a chance for three reasons: I was Jewish, a woman and a mother
In 1971, for the first time, she pleaded a case before the Supreme Court – in which she would later sit herself. The case was about whether men could be preferred to women as executors of inheritances. Discrimination, the ruling said. It was the first time that the Supreme Court had drawn a line under a law on the grounds of gender discrimination.
In 1993 Ginsburg was nominated to the Supreme Court by Bill Clinton, as the second woman and first Jewish woman ever. In terms of emancipation, she was moderate – small steps were, according to Ginsburg, the best route to social change.
Nevertheless, in later life the court grew into a phenomenon that was affectionately nicknamed ‘Notorious RBG’ on social media. Ginsburg herself was initially surprised that she was called ‘notorious‘, until her grandchildren pointed her to the link with rapper The Notorious BIG. As the young generation would say, it‘s awesome, according to the judge at the time.
Fight over succession
Because of her outspoken left-wing views in a court that has moved further and further to the right in recent years, America has progressively cherished the hope that Ginsburg would remain alive until after the next elections, in November. There was then a chance that a Democratic President could appoint her successor, not President Trump.
Recently, therefore, reports of the judge’s state of health have been followed closely, such as when she broke three ribs two years ago. She survived cancer three times to the relief of supporters, but complications of pancreatic cancer now killed Ginsburg.
Shortly before her death, Ginsburg spoke out about the fight that would erupt over her succession. My deepest wish is not to be replaced until a new president is in place, she said shortly before her death, according to her granddaughter.
What consequences Ginsburg’s death would have for US politics is now the big question. The fight over her succession has already begun
A large crowd gathered at the Supreme Court in Washington D.C. to commemorate Ginsburg: