U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday at her home in Washington D.C., became by the last years of her tenure a symbol of the fight for liberal and humanistic values. Ginsburg, who was Jewish and hailed from Brooklyn, sat on the Supreme Court bench for 27 years. In recent years she struggled with health problems, and she died of a complication from pancreatic cancer.
Ginsburg’s work, back when she was a lecturer in law and a human rights attorney, and later as a federal judge and Supreme Court justice, focused on advancing human rights – especially the right of women to equality before the law. Her writings are a paean of praise to liberalism and human rights. The stations of her professional life show the struggle she herself waged in the name of equality – a struggle that succeeded thanks to her skills and her extraordinary obstinacy.
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As the first female student to work for the Harvard Law Review and the Columbia Law Review; her fight for a wage equal to that of men as a law professor at Rutgers; she was the first female lecturer to receive tenure at Columbia; her leadership of a project in the American Civil Liberties Union to abolish laws that discriminated against women – and later as the first Jewish woman on the Supreme Court (and the second woman ever); her support for same-sex marriage, the right to abortion and minority rights – they all made her a social icon, renowned far beyond the circles of law and politics.
Ginsburg was a proud Jew, and two years ago she visited Israel. She was a winner of the Genesis Prize for Lifetime Achievement, awarded jointly by the government of Israel, the Jewish Agency and the Genesis Foundation – which she accepted from retired Supreme Court President Aharon Barak. And like Barak, Ginsburg also represents progressive judicial ideology, which views as a supreme value the right to equality of every person before the law, and promotes social values by enshrining them as precedent-setting Supreme Court rulings. Ginsburg demonstrated that the link between the feminist struggle and the struggle for social equality for minorities in all realms is an essential one.
The values of human rights, and the very rule of law and obliging elected officials to abide by it is now under assault, both in the United States and in Israel. In both countries, populist leaders are seeking to distort judicial values in the name of their appetite for absolute political power, without checks and balances. Israel must fight off these assaults, strengthen the court and transform Ginsburg’s legacy, the legacy of liberalism and equality, into an integral part of its national identity.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.