Lessons learned from the late Justice Ruth Ginsburg

by Anita Miller

Her words, though spoken softly, lifted the tide of equality for all; and her fierce determination was the rock against which discriminatory laws shattered.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Sept. 18 at the age of 87, was not only a pioneering figure to generations of Americans, she was a role model that untold numbers of girls would have dressed up as this Halloween.

She was the second woman named to the nation’s highest court but held a premier place in the struggle to uphold the tenets of the U.S. Constitution and to push equality in the workplace, at the bank and in a court of law.

“Her legacy affects every woman in the U.S.A,” said Sherri Tibbe, former Hays County District Attorney and the Democratic candidate for District Judge in Judicial District 453 on the Nov. 3 ballot. Ginsburg’s own life experiences pushed her toward equal justice, Tibbe recalls. After graduating at the top of her class from Columbia Law School, Ginsburg received not a single job offer from New York legal firms. Pregnant with her second child, “she wore her mother-in-law’s clothes to hide her pregnancy so she could keep her job until she signed a contract.”

Because of Ginsburg, Tibbe noted that women no longer need a man to get a credit card or a mortgage.

“I have two daughters, one is in law school,” Tibbe said. “I talk to them about being independent women, about taking care of yourself, about equal pay and equal recognition. I taught my daughters that my whole life and would say it to all girls. The struggles she went through, you don’t have to, in large part because of her.”

Tacie Zelhart, the Republican candidate for Hays County Court-at-law #3, found inspiration in Ginsburg that surpassed party platforms. ”Six years after she was appointed to the Supreme Court she was diagnosed with colon cancer. Two years ago I was diagnosed,” Zelhart said, adding, “I don’t like the word survivor because you fight, you are a warrior.”

Zelhart called Ginsburg, who survived four bouts of cancer, resilient. “Just seeing her battle, seeing how strong and courageous she was, inspires me to fight,” she said. “When you get diagnosed, it changes you. It has changed me for the better. It has made me more dedicated.

“We sometimes take for granted what we have today as women,” Zelhart continued, referring to Ginsburg as “one who led the way for many, many female attorneys and judges. No matter what you think about her judicial philosophy or opinions, she was a strong, smart woman who dedicated her life to the law and the equality of women. Love her or not, she was strong, hard-working and known for her dissents. Her life was the very definition of service.”

“She was very patient,” said Linda Rodriguez, who as a County Court-at-Law judge was the first woman elected countywide to the bench in Hays County. “She understood that just because someone didn’t agree with your views that did not make them your enemy. In the times we are now experiencing, that’s a lesson. She also knew that things were not going to happen immediately. She knew that justice sometimes is incremental and, even though we may be impatient for change, it sometimes doesn’t happen as quickly as we want. She was willing to fight that fight over time.”

Rodriguez, who was first elected in 1990 and served until 2014, recalled that when she assumed office “there weren’t a whole lot of women trying to get elected,” but noted she recently read there are now more women than men getting into law school. “That’s a big switch. It has been such a male-dominated profession,” she said.

Ginsburg’s influence, Rodriguez continued, “has definitely helped. She was a beacon and an icon for so many. She fought for men’s rights as well as women’s. You could not say she was just one note. She fought for equality for everybody.”

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