In 1960, US Supreme Court judge Felix Frankfurter was instrumental in denying a young lawyer a job as a supreme court clerk –- he refused to work with a woman. In fact, Ruth Bader Ginsburg found it hard to find a job at any prestigious law firm, despite being a graduate of both Columbia and Harvard law schools. Since then, her journey, both as a lawyer and a Supreme Court judge, was marked by milestones, each another step towards equality before law, and of opportunity. Her death last week has sparked a political storm — defying convention, President Donald Trump and Republicans in the US Senate are trying to nominate and confirm her successor, a conservative jurist in all likelihood, in an election year.
As a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, Ginsburg led the charge in a series of cases that guaranteed greater gender equality, including equal pay and abortion rights. As a judge, she was known as much for her judgments as her dissenting opinions. In United States v Virginia, Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion, which ended the Virginia Military Institute’s men-only admission policy. In Bush v Gore in 2000, her eloquence then was substituted with the impact of brevity. She wrote, simply, “I dissent”.
Unlike in India, there is no retirement age for an American Supreme Court judge. It may appear, then, that if Trump succeeds in appointing a conservative replacement for Ginsburg, many of the principles she fought for could be under threat. The antidote to that pessimism may lie in some of the tributes to her. Photos of girls and young women dressed as Ginsburg for Halloween, or a school function have flooded the internet. Thanks in large part to her lifetime of work, they will find it a lot easier to follow in Ginsburg’s footsteps.
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