So much to admire, so much to mourn: Ruth Bader Ginsburg achieved her dreams and, in doing so, bettered the lives of all Americans — winning battle after battle for the downtrodden, exposing the all too often yawning chasms between reality and the Constitution’s ideals and safeguards, experts said Saturday.
"Her message was so simple; she was always fighting for the underdog, in her lifetime, in her personal life, and in her professional life, she was always fighting for that," said Madeline Singas, Nassau County district attorney, by telephone.
So many of Ginsburg’s victories — on women’s rights, voting rights, pollution liability, excessive fees levied on the poor and protections for the mentally disabled — stemmed from her extraordinary persuasiveness that, coupled with her towering intellect, won over sometimes reluctant peers, experts said.
Ginsburg overcame daunting roadblocks all her life: from her mother's death the day before her high school graduation, to studying at Harvard Law School while caring for her cancer-stricken husband, Martin Ginsburg, to taking a clerkship after no law firms would hire a woman lawyer. And then there was her husband's death and her own cancer diagnoses.
"It wasn’t easy for her," Singas said, noting Ginsburg is such an exceptional figure partly because she served the nation so superbly without neglecting her family. "She did it seamlessly and effortlessly."
And because of the high court's conservative majority, Ginsburg increasingly found herself dissenting.
"Yet she continued, she persevered; she never [became] bitter or angry," Singas said.
And part of her legacy is inspiring others to keep up the fight. "Her memory will fuel our unfinished work to ensure equality for all," Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said by email.
Legal scholars see Ginsburg as leading the way for lawmakers to begin undoing centuries of injustices that allowed employers to underpay and under-hire women, keep people from exercising their right to vote, and discriminate for all manner of reasons, including race and sexuality.
"In her early years as a litigator she championed the causes of those who suffered from gender discrimination — both men and women," said Touro Law Dean Elena B. Langan by email.
"Her strategy was always a measured approach, chipping away slowly at laws that disproportionately impacted one gender over another," Langan said, a method Ginsburg also hewed to after President Bill Clinton in 1993 named her to the Supreme Court, where she served with her friend and conservative colleague, Justice Antonin Scalia.
Ginsburg "brought a much-needed perspective to the male-dominated court," the dean said, citing what she called a particularly poignant case about a strip-search of a 13-year-old girl. "Perceiving that her male colleagues did not fully appreciate the impact on the girl, Ginsburg commented, ‘They have never been a 13-year-old-girl.' "
Her wit, her potent dissents that defined wrongs so clearly and simply, famously likening the 2013 decision removing Voting Rights Act protections to throwing away an umbrella during a rainstorm, and her appeal to youngsters as the tiny grandmother with the lace collars who was eons ahead of her time, all propelled her to become the celebrated "Notorious RBG."
"She convinced people using reason rather than force and as only the second female justice appointed to the court, showed millions of women everywhere that anything is possible," Hart said.
Along with countless other admirers, Hart and Singas credit Ginsburg for showing the world not only what courageous and determined women can accomplish — and how to do so with grace without pulling punches — and with a family.
"The quiet, strong, thoughtful and fearless way she approached the law and her fight for equal rights is something which impacted and guided me personally as a lawyer, a law enforcement leader and a mother," Hart said.
"She was so petite, so small in stature, yet her voice was so booming," Singas said.
Suffolk County Bar Association director Cynthia Vargas said by telephone: "It’s a great loss; she definitely paved the way for many women, including myself."