by Leslie Layton
Chicoans turned out this evening at City Plaza to honor the memory of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a champion of civil rights, women’s rights and voting rights, who modeled courage and toughness in her personal struggles as well as in her professional life.
Ginsburg passed Sept. 18 after a battle with pancreatic cancer, and vigils attended by supporters — most heart-broken, many despairing — were taking place throughout the country, including this one at the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. The Chico vigil was organized by the group Women on Reproductive Defense (WORD).
“We are a group that is in great solidarity with women’s rights, and reproductive rights are a part of that,” said Ellen Walker, one of the founders of WORD. “Women’s rights are human rights, and we emphasize the right for women to be able to control their bodies. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of the votes we knew we could count on to not reverse Roe versus Wade.”
Walker pointed out that Ginsburg was a champion of equal rights long before she won a seat on the Supreme Court in 1993.
Twenty years earlier, as an ACLU attorney, Ginsburg challenged gender discrimination in a brief to the court. According to writer Irin Carmon, the court had hardly “budged” from a ruling a century earlier that barred women from practicing law; a justice then had written, “The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother.”
Ginsburg, Carmon writes, also brought cases on behalf of men who wanted to be caregivers for their children.
“I can tell you that anybody interested at all in equal rights owed her a lot,” said Walker. “She was a great defender of equal pay and equal treatment. In some sense, many women don’t necessarily appreciate how much they owe her for what they have nowadays.”
Carmon writes that Ginsburg was once demoted when she became pregnant.
Walker noted that because of her own work on behalf of reproductive rights, she was once given a pair of earrings with a depiction of Ginsburg’s famous “dissent collar.”
“She became something of an icon,” Walker noted, “a little old lady fighting cancer for years, doing all kinds of things to keep herself in good shape. She represents courage, strength and integrity; she was not doctrinaire.”
Her passing has distressed those who fear that her seat will be filled by a far-right ideologue just weeks before a momentous presidential election, and prompted lobbying by activists throughout the country who want the replacement process postponed as it was in 2016 when Senate Republicans blocked then President Barack Obama from filling the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia.