Flags are flying at half-staff in Maine and around the country to honor Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday evening at age 87 due to complications from pancreatic cancer.
Tributes are also pouring in from around the state for the liberal civil rights icon, who was the second woman to serve on the nation's highest court.
On its Facebook page, the League of Women Voters Maine called Ginsburg a “champion of gender equality,” and “an architect in the fight for gender equality in the 1970s."
“I became a lawyer because of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the attorneys at the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project,” Alison Beyea, the executive director of the ACLU of Maine, said in an email. “There is so much work left to do to ensure full equality for all women and people of all genders. We take inspiration from Justice Ginsburg's clear vision and her relentless drive. May we be as ceaseless in the fight for more equality."
As a young lawyer, Ginsburg directed the ACLU's women's rights project. She was also the first tenured female professor at Columbia Law School before serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court, where she served 27 years. She wrote several landmark opinions in cases ranging from gender discrimination and equal pay for equal work, to a woman's right to have an abortion.
“We're going to miss her, and her absence opens up a door of complete uncertainty in terms of the future at the national level of reproductive freedom,” said George Hill, president and CEO of Maine Family Planning. Hill called Ginsburg “a fierce, relentless, really intelligent defender of reproductive privacy and reproductive freedom.”
Ginsburg’s death has already sparked a contentious battle over the appointment of a successor to her seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. At issue is whether President Donald Trump should nominate, and whether the Republican-led Senate should confirm, Ginsburg’s replacement, or if the seat should remain vacant until the outcome of the presidential election. A court appointment by Trump would give conservatives a 6-3 majority, which could have major ramifications on partisan issues like the Affordable Care Act and access to abortion and other reproductive healthcare.
But Hill said voters should focus on what is happening at the state level.
“We're going to be distracted, I know, by the battle over whether President Trump gets to nominate, and the Senate acts on a nomination before the election,” said Hill. “But what I think is most important for Maine people to consider is that they make the effort to ask their state level legislators, those who are running for office in November, where they stand on the Reproductive Privacy Act in Maine because the battle is now, I think, going to go from the federal level to the state.”
In a statement, Hill said that should Roe v. Wade be overturned or significantly altered, the state’s Reproductive Privacy Act will preserve abortion access for Maine residents.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already said he will call for a vote on President Donald Trump's nominee. Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King says the appointment should wait until after the election. In a written statement Friday night, Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins called Ginsburg a "trailblazer for women's rights" but as of Saturday morning had not issued a response on Ginsburg’s potential successor or the timing of a Senate vote.
In announcing Ginsburg's nomination to the high court in 1993, President Bill Clinton said, "If this is a time for consensus building on the court, and I believe it is, Judge Ginsburg will be an able and effective architect."
But Ginsburg went on to become known for her powerful dissents, earning the nickname "The Notorious RBG." Her likeness, and the moniker, became a calling card for left-leaning Americans, spawning merchandise, movies, social media memes and even tattoos.
In a Facebook post, the Maine Women’s Lobby called Ginsburg one of “the most ardent and dedicated advocates for gender equity of our times," and said it will do everything possible to honor her legacy.
Originally published 12:34 p.m. September 19, 2020