Reflections on the Life and Death of RBG

  • September 25, 2020
  • Nandi A. O. Deterville, Vice-Chair, OBA Women Lawyers Forum

Like much of the information that I receive outside of my professional life, the words came from a WhatsApp group post: “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, champion of gender equality, dies at 87”. I would admit to crying out in anguish on reading those words. What I did next was call the person whom I consider my big sister. She was in tears, she was upset, she was grieving. I would soon get there, and we comforted each other during a 30-minute call where we acknowledged our pain and gave ourselves the permission to “be in our feelings”.

As in the case of the death of someone whom I do not know personally that seems to hit home, I started to question what this truly meant to me. Why am I this upset by the news? To help me unpack these emotions, I began to write this article.

Much has been written about Justice Bader Ginsburg’s exemplary life. She has been the subject of many books, articles, movies and commentary. At the core of her life story is that Justice Ginsburg was the second woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court when she was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and where she continued to serve until her death on September 18, 2020 due to complications from metastatic pancreas cancer. Interestingly enough, it was her work serving as the general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), where she argued over 300 gender discrimination cases, six [1] of which are considered landmark gender equality cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, that solidified her position as a feminist legend.

My favourite story involving Justice Ginsburg occurred during a talk at Georgetown University Law Center in 2015 that was filmed by the show PBS Newshour, while discussing her experiences as a lawyer she said, "People ask me sometimes, 'When do you think it will be enough? When will there be enough women on the court?' And my answer is: when there are nine." Simply put, if we can accept an all-male bench when the population of the world is at least half female then we can also accept an all female bench without question.