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Notorious RBG: The Tenacious Navigator

Just hours after her death, pundits, fundraisers and legislators began weighing in on the political implications of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. TMM suggests we would all be remiss if we didn’t pause to reflect on her impact, however.

An Unlikely Internet Sensation

According to the New York Times obituary, a law student, Shana Knizhnik, anointed her the Notorious R.B.G., a play on the name Notorious B.I.G., a famous rapper who was Brooklyn-born, like Ginsburg. Soon the name and her image became an internet sensation. The adulation accelerated after the election of President Trump. Ginsburg indiscreetly called him “a faker” in an interview during the 2016 campaign. She later said her comment had been “ill advised.”

Even though she graduated at the top of her law school class, RBG was unable to find a law firm in New York that would hire her. As one reporter put it, “she had 3 strikes against her: she was a woman, Jewish and a mother.” Using that benchmark, it’s easy to see how far we’ve come, with much of the credit belonging to RBG.

Gender Discrimination Is Real

“As a lawyer, she used the court to make the 14th Amendment of the Constitution — in which the founders guarantee equal protection under the law for all citizens — apply to gender, a novel but necessary interpretation,” wrote Errin Haines of The 19th. In other words, she had to convince her male colleagues on the Court that gender discrimination was real. Another measure of how far we’ve come.

Her Dissents Were Real

The NYT Obituary went on to say, “Still, it was her dissents, particularly those she announced from the bench, that received the most attention…she took to switching the decorative collars she wore with her judicial robe on days when she would be announcing a dissent. She even wore her ‘dissenting collar,’ which one observer described as ‘resembling a piece of medieval armor,’ the day after Trump’s election. One of her best-known dissents came in 2013, in which the 5-to-4 majority eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

NPR noted that “RBG died 63 days after Congressman John Lewis, their deaths from the same disease — pancreatic cancer… For many, their deaths represent the fall of two towering pillars of American democracy, without whom the path forward appears less clear.”

A Role Model for Women of All Ages

How did RBG become a cultural icon and hero for women of all ages? Dahlia Lithwick, writing in The Atlantic, observed: “Today, more than ever, women starved for models of female influence, authenticity, dignity, and voice hold up an octogenarian justice as the embodiment of hope for an empowered future.”

RBG spent a lifetime navigating – and seeking to eliminate – the inequality of cultural norms and biases. For this, we owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude. Rest in peace, RBG.


Laurentine Nicoletto, TMM Staff Writer



Images: Google Images

Featured Image:

Internet Sensation:

2007 Supreme Court:

RBG with Dissent Collar and John Lewis:

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