‘She never gave up fighting’: UC Berkeley law professors discuss Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legacy

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According to Shannon C. Turner Professor of Law Amanda Tyler, Ruth Bader Ginsburg worked to overturn jury laws that made women feel unwelcome in the judicial system.

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To honor former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s decades-long fight for justice both on the bench and as an attorney, the UC Berkeley law community gathered virtually to commemorate her life and legacy.

Three days after Ginsburg died from complications with pancreatic cancer at age 87, the UC Berkeley School of Law held a virtual discussion, during which professors spoke about her contributions to social change and gender equality. They also addressed current efforts to fill her seat and continue her work.

 “She worked tirelessly every single day of her life to make sure that the Constitution was ever-expanding in its inclusiveness, to make sure people from all walks could count on the Constitution’s protections to cloak them,” said Shannon C. Turner Professor of Law Amanda Tyler, who completed a clerkship under Ginsburg, during the panel.

Whether speaking about her service as an advocate, an attorney or a Supreme Court justice, Ginsburg will be known as a feminist “icon” who took on sex-based discrimination in both personal and professional spheres, even when the court sided against her, according to Barbara Nachtrieb Armstrong Professor of Law Catherine Fisk.

As part of her work, Ginsburg advocated that pregnancy discrimination was a form of sex-based discrimination in the 1970s. While the court decided against her argument at the time, Congress was convinced by it and later acted on the cause.

Decades later when the Supreme Court failed to end pay discrimination, legislators responded to Ginsburg’s arguments, and former president Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, which increased protections for those facing pay discrimination.

Tyler added that Ginsburg also worked to overturn jury laws that made women feel unwelcome in the judicial system.

“She opened the eyes of the Supreme Court to the lived experiences of both men and women who are held back by gender stereotypes,” Tyler said during the discussion. “She was able to teach them.”

With Ginsburg’s absence, many are concerned about the future of the Supreme Court. Berkeley Law professor Orin Kerr added that Republicans are working to nominate and confirm a replacement later this week.

Several panelists noted that to prevent a new justice from entering the Supreme Court before the election, at least four Republican senators would need to vote against President Donald Trump’s nominee.

“I suspect a major story, if not the major story, for the 40 days will be the Supreme Court,” Kerr said during the discussion. “It boils down to the Senate and what they’re going to do.”

Berkeley Law Dean and discussion moderator Erwin Chemerinsky added that if a new justice is confirmed, the court would become home to five conservative justices in addition to Chief Justice John Roberts, who acts as a “swing” justice.

If presidential candidate Joe Biden wins the upcoming November election, however, Chemerinsky said Democrats would likely attempt to increase the size of the Supreme Court to nominate more liberal justices.

During the discussion, Chancellor’s Professor of Law Bertrall Ross also stressed the importance of amending the Constitution to implement term limits for those who serve on the Supreme Court.

Fisk said regardless of what happens, Ginsburg firmly believed that change does not stop with the Supreme Court

“While we are mourning Justice Ginsburg’s loss, remember what she stood for,” Fisk said during the discussion. “She fought hard against personal adversity and professional adversity. She never gave up fighting. She lived a long life, and a good one.”

Contact Mallika Seshadri at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SeshadriMallika.