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School name finalist: Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an icon for women’s rights during her career that included U.S. Supreme Court justice

In this July 31, 2014, photo, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is seen in her chambers at the Supreme Court in Washington.  (Cliff Owen)
In this July 31, 2014, photo, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is seen in her chambers at the Supreme Court in Washington. (Cliff Owen)
By Riley Utley For The Spokesman-Review

Editor’s note: The Spokane school board is expected to pick the names of three new middle schools on Wednesday. This is the second in a series of stories examining the finalists for those names.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg and the Notorious RBG are just some of the ways people refer to this trailblazing woman who helped pave the way for women’s rights and equality in the United States.

Ginsburg is one of three finalists for the name of the new Northwest Middle School that is part of a major middle school expansion for Spokane Public Schools. Out of the three finalists for this school, Ginsburg is the only person with no direct ties to the Inland Northwest.

She is best known for her 27 years as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court and her efforts toward gender equality and women’s rights. Ginsburg was the second woman to serve on the court and the first Jewish woman to serve.

“She’s very involved in the women’s movement for the last three to four decades, she’s a standout Supreme Court justice,” said Dan Morrissey, professor of law at the Gonzaga University School of Law. “One interesting thing is she had a friendship with Justice (Antonin) Scalia. He was very conservative, but they were buddies, they liked opera and they traveled together, but they were typically on different sides of opinion. It just shows that politics does not necessarily defeat friendship.”

President Bill Clinton noted her ability to build consensus as a major reason he appointed her to the Supreme Court, and she did just that during her time on the bench. Ginsburg said her approach to judging was “neither ‘liberal’ nor ‘conservative,’ ” Linda Greenhouse wrote in her piece about Ginsburg for the New York Times right after her death in September.

Ginsburg became a cultural icon by way of dissents she wrote and the dissent collar she wore, as she was in the minority on many votes made by the court. She also became a household name because of her commitment to women’s rights and equality.

Ginsburg was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit, and she served as general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. In both positions, she found success in setting precedents in regard to women’s equality, specifically in the workplace.

“There was something fitting about that sequence, because Ruth Ginsburg was occasionally described as the Thurgood Marshall of the women’s rights movement by those who remembered her days as a litigator and director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union during the 1970s,” Greenhouse wrote.

Ginsburg courted controversy, particularly in the case of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation. Ginsburg wrote the opinion on this case, which declared the Oneida Nation could not restore their land because it was taken too long ago by the government, The Spokesman-Review reported in September in a story about Ginsburg’s legacy. This decision meant these Indigenous people did not have a right to their land because it had been owned by the government for too long and didn’t fit in with the rest of the surrounding community.

However, in the years following this opinion, Ginsburg said she no longer agreed with that decision and she had been an advocate for Indigenous rights, saying she would have liked for the next Supreme Court justice to be Indigenous.

Morrissey said the only pushback he could foresee regarding naming a school after Ginsburg would come from people who voted for Donald Trump, since Ginsburg actively spoke out against him during his presidency, and she ha d always leaned toward the liberal side of politics.

He said her work for women’s rights and her legacy in American government makes her a great role model and good name choice for a new school.

“She was very achievement-oriented, determined, very bright, she’s a real role model. She made such a great contribution to society,” Morrissey said on what children should know about the possible namesake of their school.

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