FROM THE EDITORS
We could not stand by ISSUE 2 if it did not pay tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We dedicate this issue to her and to all the women who have fought and continue to fight for equality. We hope you’ll enjoy reading the different perspectives from female lawyers who celebrate a woman whose spirit and actions we will forever look to for guidance.
Complete Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Pursuit of Justice
By: Sharon Shenhav
When we received the sad news that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died erev Rosh Hashanah, the whole world responded with grief and sorrow. The outpouring of eulogies worldwide for this small, quiet, somewhat introverted intellectual Jewish woman was amazing. She was honoured like no other Jewish woman in history, with her casket laid in the US Supreme Court, and then in the US capitol—the first woman to receive this honour.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become a household name and is quoted regularly. Her voice was a proud Jewish woman’s voice, influenced by Jewish traditions and values. On the wall of her office in the Supreme Court was a quote from the Torah, “Justice, justice shall you pursue”. That was her personal quest and she fearlessly and tirelessly pursued justice for everyone.
As an international women’s rights lawyer based in Jerusalem, I studied law in the United States in the early 1960s. Women law students in that time faced a level of sexism which isn’t as widely prevalent today. There were three women in a class of 350 men when I entered law school and these men were not happy to see me there. After all, I was taking a man’s spot. Every time I spoke in class, there was a hissing noise around the room as my classmates made it clear what they thought of my statements and ideas. As a wife and mother, they thought that I belonged at home caring for my young child and baking bread. “Does your husband know that you’re here?” “Why aren’t you home taking care of the house and your child?” they would often say to me. Like Ginsburg, I knew that I had to do well in my studies as I was representing all women. At the end of the first semester I was second in the class and the hissing ended! Now I had their respect.
Women lawyers have achieved a great deal in terms of gender equality in the past 50 years. Using their legal skills and intellectual capabilities combined with a great deal of hard work, women worldwide now benefit from equal rights in many areas. Working quietly, most of these lawyers are not well known outside of the profession. Ginsburg’s public image has illuminated her successes as well as allowing the spotlight to shine on all women lawyers whose accomplishments deserve to be widely celebrated.
Though much has been achieved, women still face inequalities in private and public spaces. Jewish divorce is one of the more painful areas where women face discrimination and a lack of equality. Sexual harassment and domestic violence still exist. The pursuit of justice is an ongoing effort and we must commit ourselves to completing Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s work.
Sharon Shenhav is recognized as an expert in Jewish Law on religious divorce and has represented hundreds of agunot in the rabbinical courts of Israel as well as in other Jewish communities. She is the founder of the International Jewish Women Lawyers Corps, a project of the International Council of Jewish Women.
“Just a Girl”: Reflections on Ruth Bader Ginsburg
By: Meghan Albert
One of my first introductions to feminist thinking was jamming out to No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” on my CD player. As I read the lyric guide, I shouted out the final lines of the chorus, an exaggerated “Oh! I’ve had it up to here/Oh! Am I making myself clear?”
Years later, reading the dissent in Burwell v Hobby Lobby, I returned to that insightful moment. Underlying Justice Ginsburg’s position was the same rage that inspired Gwen Stefani, Gloria Steinem, and millions of other feminists, including myself, who’ve simply had it up to here with efforts to curtail our rights.
Justice Ginsburg defied the odds. From humble beginnings in Brooklyn, she went on to obtain an undergraduate degree, and continued on to law school. She graduated as one of the few women in the profession, while also being a mother. Throughout her legal career, she experienced discrimination for being a woman, a mother, and a Jew. But following these circumstances she only worked harder. She defended equality and women’s rights at the ACLU, and eventually in the Supreme Court.
In the wake of her passing, and as I embark on my second year of legal education, I find myself asking what kind of jurist I will become—a comfortable one, or one devoted to fighting injustice? One who believes we can combat unequal structures from the inside, or one looking to dismantle them completely? Am I satisfied remaining complacent in a world that can benefit from my legal knowledge? Justice Ginsburg championed equality, with the shadow of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism impressed upon her. She embodied the notion that “dissent is patriotic” with passionate opinions that fortified vigorous legal, social, and moral debates. She inspires me to become a female Jewish jurist who never compromises her conscience and is defiant in the face of injustice. She moves me to declare my impatience with the wrongs of the world, like I did when I sang the chorus of “Just a Girl”.
My CD collection eventually expanded to include Salt-n-Pepa’s The Greatest Hits and Women & Songs 2. Salt-n-Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About Sex” exposed me to the notion of overt female sexuality, while “Wishing I was There” by Natalie Imbruglia spoke to the importance of vulnerability, and Sheryl Crowe’s “Strong Enough” revealed that men must make space for female liberation. Justice Ginsburg embodied the feminist tunes of my childhood. She zealously fought for women’s reproductive rights. She humbled herself in vulnerability when she apologized to Colin Kaepernick for criticizing his protest against racial injustice without a complete understanding. She reminded us that female representation should not be the exception when she answered “nine” to the question “when will there be enough women on the court?”
Today, I listened to Fiona Apple’s “Fetch The Bolt Cutters”, which recounts a woman freeing herself from the prison of society’s expectations; which I believe wouldn’t be possible without Ginsburg setting a precedent that inspired unashamed feminist expression.
Meghan Albert is a second-year law student at McGill University Faculty of Law. At McGill, she is Co-President of the Jewish Law Students’ Association and acts as Head Manager at Contours Journal which explores the intersections between law and gender, from a feminist perspective. She also volunteers at the National Canadian Lawyers Initiative (NCLI), a legal clinic which was developed in response to the access to justice issues exacerbated by COVID-19. In her free time, she likes to cook and explore world cinema, with her favourite director being Pedro Almodóvar.
The Lasting Power of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
By: Grace McDonell
We are all aware of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s final sentiment to us: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed”. She dedicated her entire life to fighting for others, even up until her last few breaths.
Ginsburg is irreplaceable and is the perfect reminder of the selfless advocate, the perfect reminder of how to carry ones’ confidence, firmly and unwaveringly. She trusted herself and her capabilities to carry forward and realize the equality movement we greatly benefit from today. She was not scorned by her male-dominated profession, rather motivated by its inability to recognize her for what she could contribute. She possessed impeccable resilience.
Ginsburg’s ability to wear her heart on her sleeve while also exemplifying supreme legal knowledge and skill was remarkable. She had a strategic sharpness that made you understand the sympathies of the client while giving you the legal authority to get there.
I have always fallen back on the premise that to achieve a level of greatness, you must work as hard as you possibly can to get yourself in the room. Before Ginsburg, regardless of the knowledge you had, you couldn’t even get into the room. She gave us a foot into the door that we must now use. It’s for us to decide what we want to do once we’re inside.
She gave us a sense of belonging that is unique to each of us.
Learning and practicing the law is a tremendous privilege. Despite the stress and anxiety that comes with this task, it comes with the greatest gift of being able to help people. Anything is possible if you have the desire to create it, not just for yourself, but for others. As Ginsburg said, “Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” That is inspiring.
Her great power was serving as a fierce advocate. We must listen to our clients and assist them with navigating the legal world that is often foreign and inaccessible. The beautiful thing about the law is that there is no one right way to accomplish this. Persuasion can take many avenues and it’s for us to determine the best approach, trusting in ourselves and our training. Searching our conscience and the law. Never underestimating the impact you can have.
The ways in which we learn the law, practice, and fight for it has changed in the midst of a pandemic. Anxiety, depression and stress are prevalent concerns. But it is from trying times that we can learn compassion, kindness, and understanding. Every legal case is based on some lack of understanding, misinterpretation or mistake caused by the fact that we are simply human. Everything we’ve gone and continue to go through due to the pandemic has hopefully given all of us a push of empowerment to believe we can make an impact. The strength to show up everyday and continually fight for slow, but meaningful change, despite the desire to give up or give in is something to be proud of.
As a queer, female lawyer, I know we need Ginsburg’s spirit with us in any industry. We must trust ourselves the same way Ruth Bader Ginsburg trusted her ability to create positive change in the name of justice.
Grace McDonell is a litigation and dispute resolution lawyer in Vancouver, British Columbia at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP. She is committed to diversifying the legal profession and lifting up the voices of others.
Header/Footer image design by Orly Zebak. Image of Ruth Bader Ginsburg from Public Domain.