Arcadia Community Reflects on Legacy of Justice Ginsburg

By Caitlin Burns | September 30, 2020

“[Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg] was one of the best advocates of all time,” said Dr. Alison LaLond Wyant, director of the Office of Social Impact and Innovation (SI2) and director of Arcadia’s Civic Scholars program. “I think her legacy will be her ability to connect liberty and equality as inextricably linked—that each of us as equals has the right to equal liberty.”

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Ginsburg died on Sept. 18 at 87 years old from complications with pancreatic metastatic cancer. In 1993, when she was sworn in, Justice Ginsburg was the second woman to serve at that time. 

“She was such a force for gender equality,” said Alejandro Lopez ’24, a Civic Scholar and Politics, Government, and Law major. “She was always someone to look up to for her dissents and for always being very aware of her dedication to her core moral tenant. That was something I admired about her.”

Prior to her appointment to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton, Justice Ginsburg was a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She also served as general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and was the first woman to receive a tenured professor position at Columbia University School of Law.

“She argued six key cases related to women’s rights before the Supreme Court,” said Dr. Amy Widestrom, associate professor and chair of the Historical and Political Studies Department. “One of the lasting legacies of these cases is not just that they advanced women’s rights in America, but that they did so by protecting equal protection for men as well.”

One of Justice Ginsburg’s landmark cases, Dr. Widestrom noted, enabled men to receive benefits from the Social Security Act as widowers. Prior to this, only women and children could receive these benefits based on the income of their husbands. 

Dr. Widestrom said that by winning this case before the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg “argued that this legal provision not only treated men unequally, it advanced the presumption that women were needier and more dependent than men—a presumption that insidiously undermined the status of both men and women in society.”

Dr. Widestrom, Dr. LaLond Wyant, and Lopez see Justice Ginsburg’s death having some potential impact on the 2020 Election, as it could bring people out to vote, both conservatives and liberals. Dr. LaLond Wyant explained that with the seat open, both political parties might see it as a call to vote to advance their values.

“It’s going to be a wild six weeks until the election,” said Dr. LaLond Wyant. “There are a number of ways it could change the election, at this point it’s just predictions but, assuming that what happens next is President Trump nominates a new justice and that person is appointed—for many Democrats that will be seen as a raw power move and it may rile up the Democratic base and move people to vote in larger numbers. The amount of power that the senate holds with this decision may also sway the voter decision making in the states where there are quite close Senate races. It could also be that fervent supporters of President Trump and who are anti-abortion will be greatly satisfied by the move to push the court to the right, which could excite the Republican base. There’s a lot to watch and see.”