“Justice Ginsburg, even had she never become a Supreme Court justice, would have had a place in history for the tremendous gains that she made for women’s rights,” Julie Cohen told Yahoo News in an interview recorded before Ginsburg died Friday of complications from pancreatic cancer at the age of 87.
Ginsburg was just the second woman appointed to the bench after being nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1993.
But as a lawyer in the 1970s, Ginsburg argued a series of cases before the Supreme Court that formed the basis for gender equality under the law.
“Gender equality should be and is enshrined in the Constitution,” Cohen said of Ginsburg’s arguments, “even if the conventional, popular and legal wisdom didn’t understand that at the time.”
Ginsburg was known for her strength and resilience in overcoming health issues that included five bouts with cancer, falls that resulted in broken ribs and assorted other hospitalizations after she turned 75. But to Cohen, Ginsburg’s perseverance as a woman in a male-dominated legal field was equally inspiring.
“Throughout Justice Ginsburg’s entire career, there was sort of like nothing that could ever take her down,” Cohen said. “If she got rejected, if she got discriminated against, if she got kind of dismissively pushed aside, her response to that was always just to push right past that.”
As the leader of the Supreme Court’s liberal wing, Ginsburg became something of a pop culture icon later in life, embracing the “Notorious RBG” nickname she earned for her work defending the rights of women and minorities — not to mention her notoriously grueling workouts.
Cohen’s documentary premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where Ginsburg was given a starlike welcome.
“It’s one thing to become a superstar when you’re a 17-year-old ingenue actress,” Cohen said. “RBG’s big fame came when she was in her 80s. And I think she had the maturity to not get too sucked into it, to not really think that that was what was so important in her life — what’s important is what she’s accomplished in the law — but to also really enjoy it.
“She also understood she could use that attention to educate people about the issues that were really important to her,” Cohen added. “She had an audience and was going to use it.”
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