U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is being remembered for her brilliant legal mind, her flair for fashion and her unwavering tenacity, in and out of the courtroom. But on Saturday, gender studies professor Wanda Pillow told a crowd on the University of Utah’s campus they should be thinking about her dissents, too.
And to take notes.
Because in this unprecedented political and cultural moment, when a presidential election that many Americans see as a referendum on the fate of the country comes during a deadly pandemic, and as people rally in the streets for social justice, Pillow said, that is the best way to honor the notorious RBG’s legacy — and make a brighter future.
“In the face of systemic racism, violence, degradation of persons and land and erosions of civil rights, let us all be notorious in our daily life and our daily roles," Pillow said, “and nothing is more notorious than participating in coalitional dissent to ensure rights and access, to enact dissent for the kind of communities we want and need now and for the future."
As thousands gathered in Washington, D.C., for a vigil on the steps of the Supreme Court, Pillow and others from the U. spoke to a crowd holding candles in the parking lot of the S.J. Quinney College of Law, as well as to those listening online. Ginsburg, 87, died Friday from complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer.
Pillow quoted Ginsburg, who authored 127 dissents during her tenure on the court, as once saying: “Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.”
Law school Dean Elizabeth Kronk Warner said many who gathered felt like they knew Ginsburg, even if they didn’t, because of the mark Ginsburg left on the the country. That’s part of why Kronk Warner wanted her college to pull together an event, she said, so people wouldn’t have to mourn alone.
About 40 people stood in pairs or trios, spaced apart from others to maintain 6 feet of social distancing. They held white candles, and as speakers shared remarks, some attendees cupped their hands around their candle’s wick, so the light breeze wouldn’t extinguish the small, flickering flames.
U. professor RonNell Andersen Jones, a First Amendment scholar, described Ginsburg as an inspiration for her indefatigable drive, for her “truly equal partnership” with her husband, Marty, and for her professional contributions, including writing “some of the most significant judicial opinions of all time, and the most significant for the recognition of the right to sex/gender-based equal protection under the law.”
"She modeled what it meant to think clearly, and to write precisely, and to respect the rule of law for the fragile, miraculous thing that it is,” Jones said.
Jones shared an excerpt from remarks Ginsburg released last week, as she was awarded the Liberty Medal by the National Constitution Center. With her “characteristic humility,” Jones said, Ginsburg wrote: “Helping to explain what was wrong about the closed-door era was enormously satisfying.”
“The truest tribute that we can pay to this life well-lived,” Jones said, “is to live well our own lives in the law. To keep helping, to keep explaining what is wrong with the doors that are still closed. To find satisfaction in hard work, and in change-making, to say with her same relentlessness, ‘Justice, justice shall we pursue.’”