Local Community Reacts to Justice Ginsburg's Death

Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is seen in her chambers in at the Supreme Court in Washington on July 31, 2014. The Supreme Court says Ginsburg died of metastatic pancreatic cancer at age 87.(AP)
Scott Stewart and David Golbitz
The Daily Record

A profound sense of loss followed the announcement that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died last Friday.

That loss was no less felt in Nebraska, where members of the legal profession joined with the broader community in mourning Ginsburg, reflecting upon her legacy and considering the work left undone – especially as the politics of the moment hardly skipped a beat, with an election cycle intensifying as the prospect of filling her seat on the bench.

“The Nebraska Supreme Court expresses its condolences to the family of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael G. Heavican said in a statement. “She will long be remembered for her legal acumen and her tenacious battle against cancer. Our thoughts are also with her colleagues and friends.”

Leaving a Lasting Legacy

Richard Moberly remembers being “spellbound by her brilliance, good humor, and grace” upon meeting Ginsburg over lunch more than a decade ago.

The dean of the University of Nebraska College of Law met with Ginsburg with a group of students, he told The Daily Record in an email Sunday. Beyond her legal prowess, he noted that Ginsburg was “an overwhelmingly decent and kind person.”

“Our entire law school community mourns the loss of a tremendous jurist, a strong leader, and a champion for inclusion and equity,” he said. “Her legacy will be a legal system that, at its best, values equality and disdains judgement based on stereotype and ignorance. We have a long way to go to live up to the standard she set, but she moved us much closer to those ideals.”

Joshua Fershée, dean of the Creighton University School of Law, said Ginsburg showed through her own excellence the importance of being inclusive.

“Justice Ginsburg exemplified how much talent we have missed in every profession, and in pursuing justice, by excluding women and people of color at the highest levels,” Fershée said. “She inspired countless people to pursue a career in law, and she showed us all how to do it well with her unique combination of grace and brilliance.”

Framework for Equality

Danielle Conrad was one of many who was inspired by Ginsburg’s devotion to and passion for the practice of law.

“Like so many Nebraska women, I was inspired to chart a path in public service due to trailblazing women like Helen Boosalis,” the executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska told The Daily Record on Monday. “And like so many Nebraska lawyers, I was inspired by the power of the law due to the brilliance and leadership of Justice Ginsburg.”

Conrad remembers Ginsburg as a fierce litigator and a brilliant judge who leaves behind a “framework for equality in this country” who “shaped American jurisprudence for the better.”

“From the courts to the halls of power, and in the hearts and minds of countless Americans, Justice Ginsburg will continue to inspire us and it’s up to each of us to honor her legacy to ensure equality means equality for everyone,” Conrad said.

As director of its Women’s Right Project, Ginsburg established the foundation for the current legal prohibitions against sex discrimination and helped lay the groundwork for future women’s right advocacy, according to the ACLU.

Those legal victories for the ACLU advanced women’s rights and opened doors for women of future generations, said Diane Uchimiya, director of clinical programs for the Milton R. Abrahams Legal Clinic at Creighton University.

“Her legacy can be seen in law schools across the nation, in which over 50% of the entering classes for years have been women,” Uchimiya said.

Anthony Romero, the executive director of the national American Civil Liberties Union, said few people have had such a dramatic and lasting effect on the law. The ACLU is naming its Center for Liberty after Ginsburg.

“She leaves a country changed because of her work,” Romero said.

Among the Greatest Jurists

Senior U.S. District Court Judge Joseph F. Bataillon said Ginsburg’s death comes at a pivotal time in the nation’s history.

“Justice Ginsburg represented the accumulated work of American civil rights activists which started at the signing of the Declaration of Independence,” Bataillon said in an email. “She understood the plight of the disenfranchised in our country and was their champion. She will no doubt be remembered about the greatest jurists in American history.”

Ginsburg certainly had an impact on the law, said Josephine Potuto, professor of constitutional law at Nebraska. But her more lasting contribution came before her appointment to the court, working for the ACLU Women’s Rights Project.

“Ginsburg was extraordinarily shy,” Potuto said. “She nonetheless rose above her personal predilections to bring the cases, frame the arguments, and develop the case-by-case strategy that changed the law of gender discrimination and, in turn, societal understanding and behavor. That work made her an icon in the area of women’s rights, and deservedly so.”

Moreover, Ginsburg’s approach – “polite civil discourse” – is needed right now, said Steven Guenzel, president of the Nebraska State Bar Foundation.

“Justice Ginsburg was an extraordinary example of how to disagree without being disagreeable,” Guenzel said.

A True Leader

Despite being viewed by many as a key barrier to overturning Roe v. Wade, Ginsburg received nearly universal praise in the wake of her death, including from conversation politicians.

“We honor Justice Ginsburg for her decades of public service and tireless devotion to her vocation,” Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said in a statement.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement that Ginsburg “dedicated her life to passionately serving her country through the law.”

“From caring for her family while working her way through law school to reaching the highest court in our land, she blazed a trail that inspires others to answer the call to serve,” Reynolds said. “Her life of service deserves the utmost respect and admiration.”

Mary Ann Borgeson, a Douglas County commissioner who is the immediate past president of the National Association of Counties, praised Ginsburg as among the “most impressive voices” for gender equality and civil liberties.

“While I have not agreed with some of her views or decisions over the years, one thing that has stuck with me is her view on leadership, where she said, ‘Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you,’” Borgeson said. “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an icon and will be missed.”

Ultimate Righteousness

As news of Ginsburg’s passing made the rounds on social media Friday night, there was a recurring mention of a Jewish tradition that states that those who pass away on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, are to be held in great esteem.

Indeed, those who die as the new year begins are among the most good and righteous of the world, Beth El Synagogue Rabbi Steven Abraham told The Daily Record.

“Upon hearing the news of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as Rosh Hashanah had just begun, many in the Jewish Community noted that it was a sign of her righteousness,” Abraham said. “This concept stems from that fact that this individual must have been of such high regard as God needed them for the entire year and could not let go until the very end. In truth not even Moses knew when he would die, that is something only known to our creator. Yet I believe it quite clear that Justice Ginsburg fit the bill of everything we know about what it means to be a ‘Tzadik,’ someone of ultimate righteousness.”

Righteousness in Judaism is defined as the fulfillment of legal and moral obligations, and the act of doing what is just and right in all relationships. It is not enough to talk about justice and fairness. One’s actions must help bring that justice into being.

Brian Stoller, senior rabbi of Temple Israel, referred to Ginsburg as “a model of decency and dignity.”

“Through her renowned friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia, she showed us how people who sharply disagree on matters of core principle can still love and respect each other,” Stoller said. “Her death is a loss for country, for the Jewish people and for the world.”

Looking Ahead

As the nation faces the prospect of filling Ginsburg’s seat – whether in the immediate run-up to the November election, the lame duck session or sometime early next year – nobody seems to know what’s next, except that it’s sure to be contentious.

“It’s pretty clear that Trump and McConnell made up their minds, they’re gonna do whatever they can to fill this vacancy pronto,” said Richard Shugrue, a former Creighton Law professor and columnist for The Daily Record.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is “bound and determined” to fill Ginsburg’s seat with someone who “is in the imagine and likeness of  Antonin Scalia, a conservative, a person who believes in strict interpretation, a literalist of the Constitution.”

Despite the pending political showdown, Kristy Coté, an assistant professor of law at Creighton, said it is important to remember and celebrate the contributions Ginsburg brought to the practice of law, as well as her time on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.

“We have lost a true advocate for otherwise unheard voices,” Coté  said. “I hope her legal contributions, ethical insights, and unrelenting sense of justice do not get lost in the political battle to decide who gets to appoint the next justice,”


Daily Record Staff Writer Molly Ashford contributed to this report. Do you have a reflection you want to share on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing? Email it to The Daily Record at news@omahadailyrecord.com.

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