My heart is broken, and I expect yours is, too. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg leaves behind an immeasurable legacy and a void so deep which, in this moment, feels overwhelming.
I felt a special connection to her even though we never met. Perhaps it is because her pioneering litigation played a defining role in my ability to become a lawyer at all. Where would I be if the law did not permit me to take out loans to pay for law school? Instead, I went to law school without incident and the trajectory of my life, and I expect the lives of many of you, was changed forever. No American was more instrumental in the fight for gender equality or in the defense of reproductive rights. A visionary, she invented an entirely new area of the law based on gender equality. We know it wasn’t just women who benefited, though. It was single parents, naval cadets, a long-overdue recognition that love is love, her tireless defense of the right to vote, and her strong voice that reminded those with power that the due process clause applies just the same to the powerless. She was a champion for so many. This loss feels personal because it is.
The leader of the liberal wing of the court became a cultural icon for a reason, I think. The Notorious RBG was known to us. Her idiosyncrasies, her love of opera, the unlikely—though obviously genuine—friendship with Justice Scalia, and the endearing partnership with Marty—it all felt so known and knowable. And it is the personal that made her a brilliant litigator, a force of righteousness on the bench, and a beloved American hero to a broad coalition of Americans from civil rights lawyers to little girls and everyone in between. She knew the law was personal. She understood that what the Court does matters in the everyday lives of Americans because she had once been unseen and unwelcome. Her ability to see the humanity embedded in the legal questions presented to her made her a justice we could rely on for an open mind and a fair shake.
We have studied her briefs and the opinions that lifted and inspired us. And when we lost, we poured over her dissents that mapped out the better way. We never searched long to find the words that connected directly with our own lives. And maybe there lies our heartache. We are familiar. Familiar with the sustained and mounting assault on the rights of the vulnerable, the poor, the disenfranchised, the forgotten. We know how much this fragile moment needs her. She held America to its promise that ‘We the People’ means all the people, and at a time when this promise is tethered by a thread, this wound is deep.
The dissenter’s hope, she said, is “that they are writing for tomorrow.” She inspired so many to fight like hell, so that is what we will do. We will continue—armed with her legacy—to hold the constitution to its promise of equal justice for all. May her memory be a blessing. And a revolution.
Originally published on the Kansas Federal Public Defender blog. Written by our own Lindsay Runnels.