Mayor’s Message: The passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stood only five feet tall and was soft spoken, but battled giants to bring equality to the laws of our land

“If you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself. Something to repair tears in your community. Something to make life a little better for people less fortunate than you. That’s what I think a meaningful life is – living not for oneself, but for one’s community.”

  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Our country lost a treasure with last week’s passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  In spite of her small stature, she was a giant warrior against gender discrimination and inequality.

In 1971, Justice Ginsburg made her first successful argument before the Supreme Court, when she filed the lead brief in Reed v. Reed, which examined whether men could be automatically preferred over women as estate executors.  The Court agreed with Justice Ginsburg, marking the first time the Supreme Court had struck down a law because of gender-based discrimination.  She argued six landmark cases before the Supreme Court and won five.  She never used the word “sex” – too distracting for male judges – instead using “gender.” Eventually, she wiped over 200 discriminatory laws off the books.

Justice Ginsburg began her career on the Supreme Court where she left off as an advocate fighting for women’s rights.  In 1996, Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion in United States v. Virginia, holding that qualified women could not be denied admission to the Virginia Military Institute.  Her style in advocating from the bench was slow, but steady and calculated.  Instead of creating sweeping limitations on gender discrimination, she attacked specific areas of discrimination and violations on women’s rights one at a time.

Ginsburg did not shy away from giving pointed guidance when she felt the need.  She dissented in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. where the plaintiff, a female worker being paid significantly less than males with her same qualifications, sued under Title VII but was denied relief because her claim was untimely.  She broke with tradition and wrote a highly colloquial version of her dissent to read from the bench.  She also called for Congress to undo this improper interpretation of the law in her dissent, and then worked with President Obama to pass the very first piece of legislation he signed, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, a copy of which hung proudly in her office.

To honor Justice Ginsburg and the women she has inspired, I have asked two women who I respect and admire, my colleagues, Deputy Mayor Michelle Nocito and Committeewoman Jacklyn Fetbroyt, to share their thoughts about “RBG.”

Deputy Mayor Michelle Nocito states, “Justice Ginsburg will forever be a legend in both my personal and professional life. Working in finance, I have built a career on helping women live the best life possible with the assets they have accumulated as a result of the various contributions they make to society. Justice Ginsburg’s advocacy for equality helped establish the way many households are set up today.

She has left all of us with the ability to embrace our gender as we choose. Whether that is women working outside the home or men choosing to stay home and care for children, or same-sex partnerships raising families, we owe the ability to make those choices to Ginsburg’s contributions. She has passed the equality baton to our generation and it is our duty to run with it.”

Committeewoman Jackie Fetbroyt says she struggled to provide any concise thoughts for this piece as Justice Ginsburg has affected many areas of her life as a woman, wife, mom and lawyer.  “I think one overarching theme, applicable to so many areas of life and to Justice Ginsburg’s accomplishments, is perseverance. She continued to push, even after great wins, for equality and justice.

At her nomination ceremony in the Rose Garden, RBG politely rejected tokenism as a solution to discrimination, suggesting that her nomination was the beginning of ‘the end of the days when women, at least half the talent pool in our society, appear in high places only as one-at-a-time performers.’ And, when faced with rollbacks of protections under the Voting Rights Act by the majority of her colleagues, Justice Ginsburg penned a dissent in Shelby County v. Holder, analogizing that ‘[t]hrowing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.’  She recognized the need to make not only impactful, but lasting, change…but never missed an opportunity to bend that moral arc when she could!”

While our country has made some strides toward gender equality, the fight continues.  In Voorhees Township, several women stand on the small but powerful shoulders of Justice Ginsburg.  We have two women on our Township Committee.  We also have women in the leadership positions of Director of Human Relations, Tax Collector, Municipal Clerk, Assistant Municipal Clerk, Department Head of Planning/Zoning, Municipal Court Administrator, Director of Vital Statistics, Municipal Prosecutor and Police Captain.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stood only five feet tall and was soft spoken, but battled giants to bring equality to the laws of our land.  She never waivered in her pursuit of equal treatment for women and minorities.  She was a hero to many of us and a role model for all of us.