Graphic by Natalie Wainwright

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in state at the United States Capitol today, a rare honor that has never before been bestowed upon a woman.

In the days following her death on Sept. 18 at age 87, thousands of people paid tribute to Justice Ginsburg outside the Supreme Court. Her body has lain in repose in the court’s Great Hall for the past two days, which was also an unusual distinction. Justices traditionally lie in repose in the court’s Great Hall for one day, but an additional day was designated to accommodate the extraordinary number of people who came out to honor Justice Ginsburg.

Often called “a center of power on and off the court,” Justice Ginsburg is the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court. She was a leader in the fight in the courts for gender equality throughout her career, long before she was appointed in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. She served there until she was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton.

As co-founder of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union during the 1970s, she fought against gender discrimination for both women and men, and successfully argued six landmark cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1973, she argued before the Supreme Court in Frontiero v. Richardson that “sex like race has been made the basis for unjustified or at least unproved assumptions, concerning an individual’s potential to perform or contribute to society.”

She asserted, “Sex classifications imply a judgment of inferiority. … These distinctions have a common effect. They help keep woman in her place, a place inferior to that occupied by men in our society.”

The Supreme Court decision in the landmark case was that benefits given by the U.S. military to the family of service members cannot be given out differently because of sex.

The oldest sitting member on the court, Justice Ginsburg was widely regarded as an American hero and a role model for women and girls throughout the world.

In a statement about her long tenure as a Supreme Court Justice, President Clinton said, “Along the way, she became a kind of cultural icon, which surprised even me.”

In the PBS News Hour podcast, “How Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the ‘Notorious RBG’” (Sept, 23, 2020), Jeffrey Brown summarized how Justice Ginsburg became a pop culture icon in her 80s.

“Appropriate for the age of social media, the cultural stardom of Ruth Bader Ginsburg began in 2013 with a Tumblr account, the ‘Notorious RBG,’ a takeoff on the well-known rapper, the Notorious B.I.G.

It was the creation of then-NYU Law student Shana Knizhnik, inspired by a powerful Ginsburg dissent defending voting rights,”

Justice Ginsburg was a trailblazer whose accomplishments helped shape American society and demonstrated why women deserve to lead. Currently, in Evanston City Council, six of nine aldermen are women. Six of seven members of the District 202 Board of Education are women, and five of seven members of District 65 Board of Education are women.

Fewer than 40 people have received the honor of lying in state at the Capitol since the practice began in 1852. A private interment service will be held next week at Arlington National Cemetery, where Justice Ginsburg’s husband, Martin D. Ginsburg, was buried in 2010.

Heidi Randhava

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.