Few acts are so solemn as to eulogize those who pass from among the living. While Justice Ginsburg may not have attended Trinity, she was intimately tied to the country from which our institution is inseparable. In a way, the acts of the Supreme Court—her court for that transitory moment that is life—had a profound and everlasting impact upon the lives of students, alumni, and staff from all corners of the nation.
On this Tuesday, we remember her legacy: of judicial eloquence, fierce advocacy for the rights and interests of the United States and its people, and an everlasting resolve for and faith in progress.
Her impact seems almost a constant and, as so many have reflected, a titanic presence in the world of law and the world of cultural discourse.
From zealous advocacy for the interest of gender equality as a young attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union to her interests in the often-arcane vagaries of civil procedure (among the few women then in the field, she taught a course at Columbia while a faculty member), Justice Ginsburg’s mark on generations of clerks, students, and aspiring legal practitioners is indescribable.
Her favorite quote, too, from Justice Felix Frankfurter, epitomized the value of procedure in the momentum of progress: the “history of liberty has largely been the history of observance ofprocedural safeguards.”
Her opinions have shaped progressive jurisprudence and her cases have been leading and definitive on so many issues that shape our national discourse. United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515 (1996), which struck down Virginia Military Institute’s male-only admissions policy, held that “women seeking and fit” for a VMI education were entitled under equal protection.
That decision is emblematic as any of her unbroken resolve that women, as much as men, are entitled to the same treatment and the same opportunities across these United States.
Likewise, her dissents have positioned her as a scion of Warren-era judicial activism in an age that has seen the Court drift increasingly more conservative: her Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 573 U.S. 682 (2014) dissent, whether you agree with her position or not, reflects the carefully-crafted jurisprudence that elevated her to the nation’s highest court. Here, a rigorous analysis never falters in pushing the Court to explain its position and rectify its argument with landmark cases that concern judicial questions of compliance and exemption from the law. She mounts an impassioned plea, even in dissent, for competing interests of authority: Congress’ Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate.
This final decade of career may even permit her, if only for a moment, to aptly steal the title of “Great Dissenter” from Justice Harlan. Any admirer of judicial discourse and legal thought would recognize that—policy preference aside—Justice Ginsburg argued admirably andforcefully for the positions she saw the law permit.
She was, too, a beacon for what makes America the place it is as much as a progressive icon: her close friendship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, despite their judicial and political differences, remained among the most cherished aspects of her life. She reminds us today of the best we can be, in this time of great national division. She helps us to recall that through it all we remain united on the same team. Moreover, sometimes, she says, there are more important things than politics (like a night out at the opera with a friend across the aisle).
Regardless of our political positions, we should look toward Justice Ginsburg as a model American in all respects. One who fought for so many, in the name of equality and justice, and who always reminded us of the importance of a well-defended opinion without forgetting who we are.
And so, as she is laid to rest, we implore you to appreciate and reflect on her legacy on our nation’s judicial system and on her impassioned work for so many across our country.
-The Trinity Tripod