Remembering the ‘Notorious RBG’

USC students and faculty react to the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the profound legacy she left behind.

Grief. Devastation. Terror. These are just some of the feelings USC students said they experienced following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday, Sept. 18 at the age of 87.

Ginsburg died from complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer, the Supreme Court said in a statement released Friday night. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote, “Today we mourn, but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her: a tireless and resolute champion of justice.”

Ginsburg, who was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993, was the second female justice to serve on the court.

In an email to Annenberg Media, USC Gould School of Law Professor Rebecca Brown said that Ginsburg was a person “who rose to the circumstances in which she found herself.”

“When she graduated at the top of her class and was refused jobs at law firms, she went to work to fight to change the law,” Brown wrote.

Brown, who specializes in constitutional law and the U.S. Supreme Court, clerked for former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Brown wrote that Ginsburg’s own work took a nod from Marshall’s.

“She designed a strategy to dismantle sex discrimination in a way that learned from the prior efforts of Thurgood Marshall, who had plotted the path toward the dismantling of racial segregation in the courts,” Brown wrote. “But she did not stop there. As a judge and then Justice, she also seized each moment, and evolved over time.”

As the Supreme Court moved away from the values Ginsburg believed in, Brown wrote that Ginsburg “became a fiercer and more vocal champion of those rights with every passing year,” taking a courageous stance on issues like affirmative action, reproductive freedom, campaign finance regulation, health care protection, marriage equality and capital punishment.

However, many of Ginsburg’s opinions were constantly controversial — including the opinion she wrote in the Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation case which struck down the potential sovereignty of the Oneida tribe, a stance perhaps lesser-known than her other opinions on cases of gender and racial equality.

Ginsburg’s staunch support for gender equality and women’s rights made many people think of her as a cultural icon and feminist hero, earning her the nickname “the Notorious RBG.”

Ginsburg was this hero and icon for Zoe Navapanich. A USC senior double-majoring in neuroscience and global health, Navapanich owns an RBG waffle-maker that reminds her of her love for the Justice.

“I think it’s really important to see your values represented in people who can be champions for you,” Navapanich said. “RBG was like that to me, and I think she was like that to a lot of people as well.”

Navapanich feels frustrated, though, mourning the loss of one of her heroes while simultaneously worrying about what Ginsburg’s death means for the future of the United States.

“Losing her on a personal level is really tragic, but losing her in a political sense is very scary,” Navapanich said. “It’s disappointing that there’s so much that feels like it was resting on one person.”

Because Supreme Court positions are for life, Navapanich said she is worried about what could happen if Ginsburg is replaced by a justice nominated by President Donald Trump.

“It feels like a very conservative justice is going to be appointed in her place,” Navapanich said, “And I’m worried it’s going to make a lot of issues which were already being dismantled by the current administration even more at risk.”

Sophia Mazzella, a USC junior in cinema and media studies, is worried about what Ginsburg’s death means for the future of women’s health issues.

“It feels like I lost a voice on the court who I knew had my interests at heart,” Mazzella said. “The knowledge that [Ginsburg] wanted to see through this presidency to ensure that reproductive freedom remained protected hurts, because it shouldn’t have been all up to her, but she was still willing to rise to that occasion.”

Ginsburg’s death has undoubtedly impacted the entire nation, as has her work as a Supreme Court Justice over the past decades.

“She has justly earned the reverence of an entire generation of women and LGBTQ+ people whose rights today can be directly traced to her intellect, vision and hard work,” Professor Brown wrote. “Despite her tiny stature, she leaves very large shoes, indeed.”