As we mourn the passing of United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, let us each reflect on how her pursuit of justice, equality and the liberation of our human rights touched us so deeply.
I remember seeing her on the bench when I was sworn in to practice before the Supreme Court. I could not take my eyes away from such a fearless warrior, a courageous trailblazer, unafraid to stand up for all of us.
There she sat, the second of four female justices to be confirmed to the Court, bringing her distinguished legal career to the highest judicial body in the nation. It was an incredible and incomparable journey centered around advocacy of gender equality and human rights and the many barriers she overcame on behalf of women everywhere. As a law student at Harvard University, she was one of only nine women members of the class, and the first woman to serve on the editorial staff of the Harvard Law Review. She witnessed first-hand the institutional barriers to academic equality.
As a law professor, she co-founded the first law journal dedicated to women’s rights, “The Women Rights Law Reporter” and was founding counsel of the “Women’s Right’s Project”of the American Civil Liberties Union. She wrote the first textbook on sex discrimination law, “Text, Cases and Materials on Sex-Based Discrimination.”
She was the first tenured female faculty member of Columbia Law School. She appeared frequently before the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing cases of sex discrimination, earning a national reputation as a leading advocate for the equal citizenship of women.
Appointed by President Bill Clinton to the highest court in the land, she brought her record of championing the rights of women to cases of pay equity, a woman’s right to choose and gender equality at all levels of our society. Associate Justice Ginsburg was the first member of the court to officiate a same-sex wedding, two months after the landmark Supreme Court decision that the federal government must recognize gay marriage.
I also saw her speak at a “Veteran Feminists” gathering. I remember her saying that “Every constitution written since the end of WWII includes a provision that men and women are citizens of equal stature. Ours does not.”
When I introduced and became the lead sponsor of the Equal Rights legislation in the New York State Assembly to amend the New York State Constitution, I did so with the guiding inspiration of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
We mourn her passing with deepest sadness over our collective loss. Yet her passing must give us renewed strength. She proved that, against all odds, she could make an enormous difference in the battle for a just society. As the Associate Justice said, “Women belong in all places where decisions are made.” The torch is now in our hands. And we will organize to protect and advance her legacy.
Rebecca A. Seawright represents the Upper East Side, Yorkville and Roosevelt Island in New York’s 76th Assembly District.