After the death of women’s rights advocate Ginsburg in 2020, the US Supreme Court saw its conservative majority expand further.
On Friday, a tribute was held to the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, honoring her life and work as an advocate for women’s rights.
Colleagues and clerks – young lawyers who spend a year working with judges – recalled Ginsburg’s performance at a rare gathering of the Supreme Court Bar, an organization of attorneys who have practiced in court.
Speakers included Elizabeth Prelogar, the 48th U.S. Attorney General and fourth Justice Department figure. Although she now represents the federal government on the Supreme Court, Prelogar had previously served as a law clerk for Ginsburg.
“Justice Ginsburg’s accomplishments as an attorney are extraordinary, legendary,” Prelogar told the audience, referring to Ginsburg’s tenure before joining the court.
Ginsburg served as a judge for 27 years. She was only the second woman to join the bench of the country’s highest court.
But she had previously pleaded for years as a Supreme Court attorney, famed for protecting women’s rights. She won five of the six cases she took to court in the 1970s and was finally appointed a judge in 1993 by then-President Bill Clinton.
While Judge Ginsburg’s advocacy transformed an entire field of constitutional law, it never focused solely on abstract legal principles. Decades later, she still remembered each client and the injustices that brought them to court,” Prelogar said Friday, praising her mentor’s “enduring commitment” to ordinary Americans.
But Ginsburg’s death ahead of the 2020 election would prove to be a transformative moment for the Supreme Court, allowing his nine-member bench to lean even more conservatively.
Ginsburg died on September 18 of that year, allowing then-Republican President Donald Trump to fill her seat with Judge Amy Coney Barrett, his third nomination to the bench.
That gave conservatives an impressive six-to-three majority on the Supreme Court. The court has since supported several conservative priorities, including the June 2022 withdrawal of Roe v Wade, which ended the constitutional right to abortion.
Ginsburg supported the right to access abortion, although she was sometimes critical of the precedent set in the 1973 Roe decision.
The late justice’s legal battles and seniority on the court ultimately transformed her into a pop culture icon towards the end of her life. Her life was chronicled in the 2018 documentary RBG, and she was popularly referred to as the “Notorious RBG”, a pun on a rapper’s name.
Ginsburg famously collected lace and beaded collars to wear over her black Supreme Court robes, items that inspired their own fan appreciation.
“Her life was a quintessentially American story,” Prelogar said Friday. “She was born into a family of immigrants and grew up of modest means. She faced great adversity and discrimination. But through her intellect, hard work and willpower, she not only rose to the pinnacle of her profession, she reshaped it.”
Ginsburg’s battle with cancer began six years into her tenure on the Supreme Court, when she underwent surgery for colon cancer. Over the years, she also underwent treatment for pancreatic cancer, complications that would eventually cost her life.
The summer before she passed away at age 87, she reaffirmed her commitment to stay on the bench.
“I have often said that I would remain a member of the court as long as I can do the job at full capacity,” she said in a statement. “I remain fully capable of that.”
Ginsburg is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, not far from the nation’s capital. She was the first woman to live in state in the U.S. Capitol after her death.
The ceremony in her honor on Friday was part of a long tradition at the Supreme Court bar, dating back to 1822. The last justice to be commemorated in such a ceremony was the late Antonin Scalia, a conservative figure associated with with Ginsburg because of a shared love of opera.