September 19, 2020
Following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, leaders from the Union for Reform Judaism, Central Conference of American Rabbis, and Women of Reform Judaism released this statement.
Few people have had as long or as profound an impact upon the course of a nation as did Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As an attorney, Justice Ginsburg committed herself to advancing women’s rights at a time when women were denied equal access to educational, employment, economic and other opportunities. Such injustice offended Justice Ginsburg as a woman, but also as a Jew. Indeed, she spoke often of the many ways in which her Jewish upbringing and faith shaped her sense of justice, including the discrimination against Jews that was part of life even in her native New York City during her formative years. Justice Ginsburg spoke often of the inspiration she found in the words of Deuteronomy: “Justice, Justice shall you pursue.”
As a Supreme Court Justice, only the second woman and first Jewish woman appointed to that august position, Justice Ginsburg left an indelible legacy, not only shaping majority opinions but putting forward trenchant, powerful dissents with her trademark intelligence and eloquence. Her dissent in Ledbetter v Goodyear, a case in which the Court circumscribed workers’ ability to fight persistent pay discrimination, was so persuasive that within two years of the Court’s decision, many of her ideas were embodied in the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, strengthening the ability of workers subjected to pay discrimination to assert their rights.
Justice Ginsburg cogently captured the threat to the nation’s first principles when she noted in her 2014 dissent in Burwell v Hobby Lobby that the majority was not protecting religious freedom but undermining the Constitution’s Establishment Clause when it extended to private companies the religious rights of individuals. Time has proved her words painfully prescient.
In Shelby v Holder, the 2013 case in which the Court invalidated the “preclearance” provisions of the Voting Rights Act that were central to the law’s effectiveness in preventing discrimination against minority voters, Justice Ginsburg memorably wrote in her dissent: “Throwing 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.”
Today, voting rights are even more at risk than when Justice Ginsburg wrote those words. On the precipice of an election in which core values and, indeed, the health of our democracy are at stake, we can best honor Justice Ginsburg’s legacy by making sure every vote counts.
In March 2016, eight months before Election Day, President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. The Senate Republican majority refused to allow the Senate to consider the nomination, noting that it was an election year and claiming that Senate consideration of the nomination should not supersede the will of voters. While we did not believe that argument was just, the precedent has now been established: the Senate must not supersede the will of voters in an election only 45 days away. The next president must have the responsibility of filling the vacancy left by Justice Ginsburg’s passing. And what an awesome responsibility that will be.
We pray for comfort for Justice Ginsburg’s children, grandchildren, and loved ones. May her memory always be for a blessing.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President
Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman, Chair
Union for Reform Judaism
Rabbi Ronald Segal, President
Rabbi Hara Person, Chief Executive
Central Conference of American Rabbis
Susan C. Bass, President
Rabbi Marla J. Feldman, Executive Director
Women of Reform Judaism