SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – In the days following her death, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is being remembered as a towering figure in the legal community.
2020 Syracuse University Law School graduate Natalie Maier visited the Supreme Court in the summer of 2019 and was able to hear Justice Ginsburg.
“Am I really breathing the same air as this titan,” Maier remembers thinking. “And I swear when justice Ginsburg walked out and took her seat, everyone in that court kind of sat up like a little bit straighter because you just knew that you were in the presence of a legend, a living legend.”
Maier, who grew up in Syracuse before completing her undergraduate degree at Penn State, recently began a new job, working as a law clerk to the Honorable Daniel J. Yablonsky in the Superior Court of New Jersey. While in law school, Maier served as the President of the Women Law Students Association. She says 2020 law school grads trying to navigate a pandemic influenced job market can draw strength from Ginsburg, who struggled to find work after law school despite graduating at the top of her class at Columbia.
“Yet not a single firm in Manhattan was willing to hire her,” Maier said. “Because she was a woman and a mother to young children.”
Ginsburg spent her undergraduate years in Ithaca at Cornell University. Cornell Law School Professor Cynthia Grant Bowman said Ginsburg has become a critical figure in feminist judicial theory.
“Women students are really inspired by her,” Bowman said. “Women law professors too.”
Bowman points to Ginsburg’s opinion in the United States v. Virginia as a landmark ruling in the battle for gender equality. The decision ruled the Virginia Military Institute’s male-only admissions policy unconstitutional. Writing a scathing majority opinion, Ginsburg decried “a law or official policy that denies to women, simply because they are women, equal opportunity to aspire, achieve, participate in, and contribute to society, based upon what they can do.”
Bowman said the decision opened the door for future generations of law scholars, and particularly women, to continue the fight for equality.
“We stand on the shoulders of those before us and certainly her shoulders, though she was a tiny tiny woman, were very broad,” Bowman said.
Ginsburg began her battle for gender equality in the 1970s. Bowman said Ginsburg modeled her approach after the NAACP’s fight for civil rights. Some of Ginsburg’s first cases actually took on gender discrimination against men.
“At the time, the courts that she was going before as a lawyer were benches of all men,” Maier said. “In order to get them to pay attention, she had to bring before them a problem that applied to someone who looked like them.”
Maier said even if Ginsburg had never spent a day on the Supreme Court, the woman who stood just over 5 feet tall still would have been a towering legal legend.
“The decades of case law, tens of cases of gender inequality and those are law,” Maier said. “And they have been law now for a long time and hopefully will remain law.”
As many around the country continue to celebrate Ginsburg’s legacy, President Trump says he will share his choice to replace Ginsburg on the court either Friday or Saturday of this week. The President says he will wait until after Ginsburg’s memorial service out of respect to the woman affectionately dubbed RBG. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised that the President’s nominee will receive a confirmation vote in the Senate this year, leading a growing list of senators who have reversed course from their 2016 positions.