The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a fierce and revolutionary advocate for gender equality and reproductive rights, has left behind a complex legacy in the American judicial system.
No stranger to sexism herself, in 1972 Ginsburg became the co-founder of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, which pushes to end gender-based discrimination in institutions in the areas of employment, criminal justice, violence against women, and education. She carried on that work as she ascended to the federal bench, and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite Ginsburg’s passionate advocacy for women’s rights, however, she had a complicated record with the BIPOC community when it came to race relations, diversity on her staff, Indigenous rights, and criminal justice.
But even with Ginsburg’s imperfections and complexities, her vacancy doesn’t mean we can’t try to carry on some of her core values, advocacy, and legacy. There are collective actions that can be taken to advocate both in the areas where Ginsburg fought hardest and where she fell short. Here are a few:
Stand up for your rights in the workplace
Ginsburg was a major protector of unions and worker’s rights. Even before taking her seat on the Supreme Court, she stood up for equal pay for women in the workplace and fought against pregnancy discrimination. In 2018, she ruled against the majority of her colleagues and defended the right of workers to sue their employers for compensation-related issues. Ginsburg’s dissent called the ruling “egregiously wrong.”
“She was the least likely member of the current court to favor business over governments, unions, shareholders and employees,” Washington University Law Professor Lee Epstein told The New York Times.
Know your rights in the workplace and make sure your employer upholds the laws that have been put in place to protect you. If you’re not sure of your workplace rights, go to the U.S. Department of Labor’s website.
Call on members of Congress to protect voting rights
Ginsburg consistently worked to protect the right to vote. In 2013, she was in the minority who ruled against rolling back the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The ruling limited election oversight and allowed states to restrict voting access by permitting changes to voting procedures.
“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,” Ginsburg wrote.
Since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, states have implemented discriminatory voter ID laws and many marginalized communities have been denied access to the ballot box. After the death of Rep. John Lewis this summer, senators introduced “The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” which would require states with a history of voter discrimination to get clearance from the government before changing voting procedures.
There are more than 40 representatives who have sponsored the bill. To honor both Ginsburg and Lewis, check and see if your representative is on the list of sponsors. If they’re not, reach out to them by phone or email and ask them to support it.
Call on lawmakers to end partisan gerrymandering
Another way to honor Ginsburg’s efforts to protect voting rights is to call on lawmakers to end partisan gerrymandering. Ahead of the Supreme Court ruling on extreme gerrymandering in 2019—which kicked the issue of gerrymandering back to the states—Ginsburg said “gerrymandering unsettles the fundamental premise that people elect their representatives.” Ginsburg was in the minority of that 5-4 ruling.
In 2019, Sen. Amy Klobuchar introduced the Redistricting Reform Act, which would require states to create non-partisan commissions to draw congressional district maps. Calling on lawmakers to end partisan gerrymandering by supporting the Redistricting Reform Act is one way to support and uphold Ginsburg’s beliefs.
Help pay to bail someone out of jail
Though some criminal justice and civil rights organizations have praised Ginsburg’s record, her record in this area was inconsistent at times. In some cases, she even sided with the Trump administration. In the 2019 case, Mont v. United States, which established the conditions for supervised release, Ginsburg sided with the conservatives on the court. The ruling has the possibility to keep people in prison for extended periods.
Research and donate to criminal justice organizations that strive to create more equity for current and formerly incarcerated people. Even a small donation can help bail someone out of jail that isn’t able to put up the funds. The Bail Project and Community Justice Exchange are good places to start. Organizations like Color of Change also have petitions you can sign and campaigns to get involved in to help end mass incarceration.
Encourage someone to sign up for health insurance
In 2015, Ginsburg was one of the six Supreme Court judges who made the landmark decision to uphold a major component of the Affordable Care Act. Despite confusing messaging from the Trump administration and false claims that the Affordable Care Act has been dismantled, it is still intact. Health insurance is no longer mandated at the federal level, but this year, 8.3 million people signed up for government health insurance.
In November, the Supreme Court will hear arguments for California v. Texas, which challenges the Affordable Care Act. Ginsburg was expected to be one of the voices on the court to try to uphold the law, and now its future is uncertain. To honor Ginsburg’s support of the Affordable Care Act, encourage someone in your life to sign up for health insurance.
Help people access abortion care
Ginsburg was a fierce advocate for abortion rights and abortion access. During her confirmation hearing when she was asked about her stance on abortion, Ginsburg said, “This is something central to a woman’s life, to her dignity. It’s a decision that she must make for herself. And when government controls that decision for her, she’s being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.”
Ginsburg was on the opposing side of the 2007 case Gonzales v. Carhart, which upheld the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Ginsburg called the ruling “alarming,” and said it “cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this Court.” Later, in the landmark 2016 case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, Ginsburg ruled that two abortion bans in Texas were unconstitutional because it would limit access to safe, legal abortions in the state.
To continue with Ginsburg’s mission to help provide safe access to abortion, you can go through organizations like the Yellowhammer Fund in Alabama or the National Network of Abortion Funds. Both organizations help families pay for abortion-related expenses.
Find ways to help protect Indigenous land
Ginsburg’s 2005 opinion for Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation, which prevented a tribe in New York from reviving its ancient sovereignty, followed her until her death. Ginsburg wrote the 8-1 decision, stating “we hold that the tribe cannot unilaterally revive its ancient sovereignty, in whole or in part, over the parcels at issue.”
In June, Ginsburg also voted to permit the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross beneath Indigenous Appalachian territory.
To help protect Indigenous land and fight to undo some of the damage caused by the Supreme Court’s decisions on this subject matter, find organizations that make it their mission to protect land against contamination and exploitation. The Indigenous Environmental Network does a lot of work in this space, and can offer some suggestions for how to get involved.
Tell your senator to delay appointing a new Supreme Court justice
According to Ginsburg’s granddaughter, in her final days, Ginsburg said it was her “fervent wish” that her vacancy on the Supreme Court not be filled until a new president is inaugurated. With the Trump administration vowing to rush a nominee through before Nov. 3, now is the time to reach out to your senator and ask them to wait until after the next inauguration to appoint Ginsburg’s replacement.
To find out how to contact your senator, contact the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and they can direct you to the senator you’re trying to contact. In addition to contacting your senator, you can also connect with some friends and encourage them to flood the phone lines for Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, asking him to delay the Senate confirmation.