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Editorial: Notorious RBG set the bar high for fighting for justice

“My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.”

“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

“Don’t be distracted by emotions like anger, envy, resentment. These just zap energy and waste time.”

– Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Long before becoming the second woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was no stranger to New Mexico, and the affection and respect she had here was front and center when more than 200 gathered at Tiguex Park in Albuquerque Sunday night to honor her.

Ginsburg loved being a lawyer, a professor, a U.S. appellate court judge and then, for 27 years, an associate justice of the Supreme Court. Movies have been made about her amazing career, the discrimination she faced and the wrongs she righted. She was a champion of gender equality, eventually becoming the leader of the court’s liberal wing.

Ginsburg’s opinions, whether writing for the majority or in dissent, carried tremendous weight in law and in society, often leading to positive change. Her forceful dissenting opinion in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in 2007 was credited with inspiring the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which made it easier for employees to win pay discrimination claims.

She also wrote notable majority opinions, such as U.S. v. Virginia, a landmark 1996 case that struck down the male-only admission policy of the Virginia Military Institute.

Ginsburg traveled often to New Mexico, spending summers in Santa Fe since the 1980s with her husband, Martin Ginsburg, who died in 2010. They were often joined by their children and grandchildren. She was a regular at the Santa Fe Opera, which she called the finest summer opera company in the world. In 2018, she received a standing ovation as she made her way to her seat. She also spent time in museums and galleries, climbed ladders at Bandelier National Monument, hiked the hills and visited Georgia O’Keeffe’s Abiquiu home.

Albuquerque resident Sally New told the Journal’s Edmundo Carrillo at Sunday’s memorial, “I keep reading new things about her, and each time I read something new, I’m amazed.” That’s the sentiment of many who have been submitting letters to the editor in recent days honoring Ginsburg. Tributes also poured in from New Mexico leaders shortly after her death Friday.

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a titan of justice, a trailblazing force for good. She is irreplaceable,” said Sen. Tom Udall.

“Throughout her career, Ruth Bader Ginsburg opened doors for gender equality across this country, and in New Mexico. She dedicated her life to the principle of equal justice under the law,” said New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael E. Vigil.

One of her greatest attributes was her ability to extend respect – even friendship – to those who disagreed with her, including the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, with whom she was close friends despite being ideological opposites. That trait is rare these days, and sorely missed.

She was known for her grit, courage, work ethic and passion for the law as well as her signature style of wearing lace gloves, scrunchies and neckwear collars she called jabots.

Who would have thought this serious, tiny Jewish grandmother from New Jersey would become a pop culture icon with “I dissent” and “Notorious RBG” splattered on aprons, T-shirts and now face masks. She appeared more surprised than anyone by her star status among young people in recent years.

Michaela Gallegos with the New Mexico Working Families Party told the crowd at Tiguex Park that Ginsburg was immortal. While not physically with us, she left an indelible mark on the court as a champion for civil rights and will be remembered for fighting, with grace, for the words carved on the front of the Supreme Court: Equal Justice Under the Law.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.