The legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsberg and what her death means for the future of America

Amy Zhang
6 min readSep 22, 2020
My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.” -Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Last Friday, a great tragedy shook the nation. A tragedy that millions felt very deeply in their hearts. That tragedy was the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I was in the middle of a call with one of my cousins when I received a notification from Apple News informing me she had lost her battle to pancreatic cancer. I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear the news, as I learned in school that Justice Ginsberg was an amazing woman who was a trailblazer for women’s and LGBTQ+ rights since 1993, serving as an inspiration and role model for many people across the United States. Over the weekend, many teens on Tiktok posted their reaction to her death, with many of them crying. Many people, especially women and members of the LGBTQ+ community knew that Justice Ginsberg’s death might mean all of the rights she fought for and guaranteed them might be taken away from them, such as the legality of gay marriage and the decision of Roe v. Wade in 1973. Now that she has passed, Donald Trump wants to immediately replace her with a more conservative judge even though Ginsberg’s dying wish was to not replace her until after the November election happened. A fierce political battle is now taking place in the U.S. over a potential vote on a nominated replacement for Ginsburg, in what could shape the country for decades to come. First, let’s talk about this incredible woman who will no doubt go down in history. Who exactly was Ruth Bader Ginsberg?

Born in March 1933 in Brooklyn, Justice Ginsburg became a heroine to liberals and the Left after overcoming sexism in the legal profession and made it to the U.S. Supreme Court -the highest court in all of America- after being appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 where she championed gender equality and other liberal causes during the 27 years she served on the Court. Ginsberg was a fierce advocate for women’s rights, winning major gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court. Justice Ginsburg was the second woman ever to sit on the Supreme Court and delivered landmark laws on abortion, women’s rights, same-sex marriage, immigration, and health care that have changed American society and politics over the past few decades.

Justice Ginsberg sat on many notable decisions in her course as a Supreme Court Justice, including the United States v. Virginia, 1996, Bush v. Gore, 2000, Obergefell v. Hodges, 2015, Sessions v. Dimaya, Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, and many more decisions. Ginsberg’s outspokenness in many of these cases, specifically Obergefell v. Hodges, is believed to have had an immense impact on public opinion. Ginsberg also was the co-founder of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Projects. It is simple to see that Justice Ginsberg had a monumental impact on the United States and will continue to have that impact even though she’s gone.

Besides being a trailblazer for women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, Justice Ginsberg was also known for her scathing, clearly worded dissents that demonstrated her passion and her refusal to back down from pitfalls. The late Justice Antonin Scalia, who served with Ginsburg on both the high court and US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, often spoke of her trenchant approach to arguments, specifically describing her in one interview as “a tigress on civil procedure.” “She has done more to shape the law in this field than any other justice on this court,” Scalia said in a 2013 interview in his chambers. “She will take a lawyer who is making a ridiculous argument and just shake him like a dog with a bone.”

So, what does her death mean for the Supreme Court? Justice Ginsburg leaves a vacancy that President Trump and the Senate Republican majority want to quickly fill despite the upcoming election. If a successor is appointed by the Republicans, it would almost certainly push the court, which had a 5–4 conservative majority, further to the right, which might undo all of the decisions and rights Justice Ginsberg gained for millions of disadvantaged Americans. Such a move would create a 6–3 advantage for the conservatives and will likely influence American law and society for decades to come, as Supreme Court justices serve for life. Many people are worried that rights such as gay marriage and the right to abortions and contraceptives might be taken away, something that will affect millions of Americans. The replacement of Justice Ginsberg with a conservative judge might undo all of the work she has worked so hard for, which isn’t just for her or the millions who have benefitted from her decisions.

There is a lot of controversy about appointing a new justice during an election year. When conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow the Senate to consider Democratic President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, to fill the vacancy. He said a Supreme Court nomination should not be taken up during an election year — despite Obama’s term having nearly another year to run. It was the first time a Senate leader had taken such action. Because of this instance, many people think it’s unjust to appoint a justice so close to an election, but does Trump care? No, he doesn’t. Within a few days of her death, he has already made merchandise saying “Fill the Seat”. This is extremely disrespectful to Justice Ginsberg, for her dying wish was to be replaced after the November election with the hopes that Joe Biden would win and appoint a liberal judge. It is also so disrespectful to make merchandise about replacing an amazing woman who lived an amazing life and achieved extraordinary things. It’s simply unjust to act like she was an object that needs to immediately be replaced. Republican senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins have said they do not support Trump’s plan to move fast on filling the seat. A poll for Reuters/Ipsos showed that 62% of Americans thought the winner of the November election should get to nominate a justice to fill the vacancy.

With the death of Justice Ginsberg just another tragedy in this awful year, voting is now more important than ever. If you’re old enough to vote, please register to vote, as voter registration ends on October 9th. Make your voice heard; your vote counts. This year, voting not only determines our president for the next four years, but it also determines the state of our country for decades to come. If Trump is re-elected, then he will indefinitely fill Justice Ginsberg’s seat with a conservative, which might result in the removal of many rights Justice Ginsberg fought so valiantly for. If we elect Joe Biden, we might have a chance to have a Supreme Court justice who will uphold the values Justice Ginsberg fought and stood for. Joe Biden says: “Voters of this country should be heard. They’re the ones who this constitution envisions should decide who has the power to make this appointment. To jam this nomination through the Senate is just an exercise of raw political power.”

President Abraham Lincoln once said, “I walk slowly, but I never walk backwards.” I see this quote as the evolution of change in America: it’s slow, it’s gradual but it should NEVER be going backwards. We have made so much progress, and even though there’s long ways to go, society is a lot more accepting than it was just twenty years ago. However, Trump’s appointment of a new conservative justice will most likely send America backwards, undoing all of Justice Ginsberg’s hard work and taking away rights from women and the LGBTQ+ community. I’m begging you, if you still want these rights for you, for your kids, for your grandkids, then please vote. It will make a difference. Remember, Supreme Court judges serve for life, so choose wisely.



Amy Zhang

Injustice from the eyes of a high schooler. Activist. Lover of history. Here to educate and inspire.