Local leaders, experts pay tribute to iconic trailblazer Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Leaders highlighted late Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s work as a women’s rights advocate

Local leaders and political experts reflect on the life and legacy of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, describing her as an “icon” and “trailblazer” for her life-long advocacy for gender equality under the law.

Ginsburg — women’s rights champion and the Supreme Court’s second female justice — died Friday at age 87 of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer at her home in Washington surrounded by family.

ExploreOhio leaders react to Ginsburg’s death

Senior U.S. District Court Judge Walter H. Rice said Ginsburg’s passing is “an irreplaceable loss.”

“The cases she brought and argued to the Supreme Court and the decisions she wrote have made an indelible impact on our history, and she’s left a legacy that will stand the test of time,” he said. “I think she was one of the great ones... She was just an icon I think to everyone regardless of their judicial philosophy and political persuasion."

Judge Rice’s wife, Bonnie Beaman Rice, reflected on her experience meeting Ginsburg in 2019 while attending a swearing-in ceremony for University of Dayton Law School alumni. She is a retired municipal court magistrate and retired director of the Leadership Honors Program with the University of Dayton School of Law.

“It was the thrill of a lifetime to not only be in the courtroom in Washington, D.C., but to have a chance to meet this iconic Supreme Court Justice whose cases I studied during my years at the University of Dayton School of Law over 40 years ago," she said.

U.S. District Court Senior Judge Walter H. Rice. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF
U.S. District Court Senior Judge Walter H. Rice. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF

Marcy L. Paul, Ph.D., director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, part of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton, said it was devastating to learn of Ginsburg’s passing as Rosh Hashana, one of the holiest holidays on the Jewish calendar, began Friday evening. Ginsburg was the second Jewish justice to be appointed to the high court.

“She lived her life in a very Jewish way,” Paul said. “One of our Jewish values [from the Torah] in English is ‘justice, justice you shall pursue’ and that’s exactly what she did.”

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Former Dayton Mayor Rhine McLin, the city’s first woman mayor, said the “awesome Justice, lady and scholar respected and understood the Constitution and what it meant for people."

She was "a gem that shall be missed but never forgotten,” McLin said.

Former Dayton Mayor Rhine McLin was the city's first woman mayor. LISA POWELL / STAFF
Former Dayton Mayor Rhine McLin was the city's first woman mayor. LISA POWELL / STAFF

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley posted on Twitter that Ginsburg “represented the best of America.”

“As an advocate and Justice, she is irreplaceable," Whaley said. "Rest in Power.”

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John Feldmeier, a University of Dayton School of Law professor and faculty advisor for the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Society there, said Ginsburg’s greatest legacy was her work as an advocate for sexual equality when she argued as a lawyer in the Supreme Court in the 1970s.

“In the 1970s, she was instrumental as a lawyer with the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, where she was really the lead advocate for a number of cases that went before the Supreme Court," he said. "And she was critical. She was in the middle of changing the standard by which the court measures sexual discrimination under the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause.”

Feldmeier said the RBG society was created by students who wanted to honor the legacy and achievements of Justice Ginsburg.

Mark Smith, Director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University, said he was saddened by Ginsburg’s passing.

“Justice Ginsburg was a brilliant lawyer and will go down as one of the most influential justices on the Court during the last several decades,” he said. “I especially admired the model of friendship that she and Justice [Antonin] Scalia put before the world. Two people with radically different political philosophies, who found themselves on the opposite side of all the ‘hot button’ cultural issues, had a strong, close friendship that transcended their differences.”

Dr. Mark Caleb Smith of Cedarville University.
Dr. Mark Caleb Smith of Cedarville University.

Thaddeus Hoffmeister, a University of Dayton School of Law professor, echoed admiration for Ginsburg’s friendship with Scalia.

“She was a trailblazer and pioneer both on and off the bench,” he said. “Her biggest legacy is her desire that everyone is treated equal under the law and laws should be gender neutral as applied ... She had transcended the law in my view; she had almost become a cultural icon. They’d call her the ‘notorious RBG.’ Everyone was cheering for her and she worked up until the last day.”

University of Dayton Law School Professor Thaddeus Hoffmeister. LISA POWELL / STAFF
University of Dayton Law School Professor Thaddeus Hoffmeister. LISA POWELL / STAFF

Credit: Lisa Powell

Credit: Lisa Powell

YWCA Dayton President and CEO Shannon Isom said in a statement: “We owe an immense amount of gratitude to the political, judicial, gender, and reproductive justice that RBG granted us. We are profoundly sad for our shared loss; but, thankful for her life and her undying vision — until there are nine.”

YWCA Dayton President and CEO Shannon Isom.
YWCA Dayton President and CEO Shannon Isom.

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