We called her "The Notorious RBG." Despite the public, widespread knowledge that she had metastatic pancreatic cancer, I suspect that we hoped she was, in fact, "The Invincible RBG," that her body wouldn't fail her––or us. But, on September 18, 2020, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, despite our hopes, what we knew would happen some day, and what her family had been preparing for, it happened.
Justice Ginsburg, while tiny in physical stature, was a force to be reckoned with––as a student, as a professor, as a jurist. Her work, with its well-known focus on equality issues, especially involving gender equality, helped to change the way in which we view and address those issues. The depth and breadth of her work is too important to try to glibly gloss over it with a few sentences. Instead, I'd like to focus on the answer Justice Ginsburg gave when asked how many women on the Supreme Court would be enough. She famously responded, "when there are nine."
That, to me, is the essence of Justice Ginsburg's work. Think back just a few years. Until 1981 (the year I entered law school), when Sandra Day O'Connor was appointed to the Supreme Court, only men had ever served on the Court. Until 1967, when Thurgood Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court, no person of color had ever served on the Court. Now, only one person of color is currently sitting Supreme Court Justice, and, until this weekend, the most women to serve at the same time has been three.
"When there are nine" means that, for Justice Ginsburg's work to reach fruition, to be complete, we will find it normal, not odd, not unusual…
• for all members of the Board of Directors of a major corporation to be people of color
• for all members of the MU Board of Curators to be women
• for leadership in corporate America and local, state and national government to truly reflect the makeup––race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability and disability status––of the people.
At that point, the work of Justice Ginsburg, and the promise of those first words of the United States Constitution, "We, the People," will be fulfilled. Then, every person will be judged and rewarded, not based on the color of her skin, her gender, or any other factor, but rather on the content of her character.
It is fitting that, if we must lose Justice Ginsburg, she leaves us as Rosh Hashanah began since it is said that a person who dies on the eve of or during Rosh Hashanah is a "tzaddik," a person of great righteousness.
Farewell and shalom, Justice Ginsburg.