Following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, members of the UA community are remembering her legacy as a trailblazer for human rights and preparing to take action at the polls this November.
Ginsburg died from complications with pancreatic cancer Sept. 18 after serving for 27 years on the Supreme Court. She was the second woman ever appointed to the court, where she became a leading liberal voice and known as a feminist icon — “The Notorious RBG.”
Billy Cook, a senior and president of the UA Young Democrats, said he thinks the legacy of Ginsburg’s work has a profound impact on all Americans.
“She was a fierce advocate for voting rights and the ability for people to take part in our elections and make their voices heard,” Cook said.
UAYD sees Ginsburg’s death as a call to action, which the group plans to heed by holding voter registration drives and encouraging students to get involved in the political process, Cook said. UAYD held their first socially distanced, drive-through voter registration event\ on campus Friday afternoon.
Ginsburg’s death created a vacancy on the Supreme Court, which in turn has led to a national debate about whether to fill her vacant seat before the Nov. 3 presidential election.
On Sept. 26, President Donald Trump announced Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative judge on the United States Court of Appeals, as his pick to fill Ginsburg’s seat. Barrett clerked for conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died months before the 2016 presidential election. Scalia’s seat remained vacant until after the election, and individuals who oppose filling Ginsburg’s seat before Nov. 3 are using Scalia’s situation to support their arguments.
Cook said he thinks that America is in a “great moment of national urgency” by which UA students, especially women and those who rely on government-funded healthcare, could be greatly affected.
Congressional Democrats and other party members have raised objections to Barrett’s judicial record on issues like abortion and healthcare, suggesting that the Affordable Care Act and abortion access could both be at risk if she is confirmed.
Emily Phillips, the chairperson of the UA College Republicans, said she was upset by Ginsburg’s death, but is resolute about filling the late justice’s seat.
“While RBG was an inspiration for women like myself,” Phillips said in an email, “we still support the president’s decision to fill the seat and believe Trump is entitled to do so.”
Phillips said the College Republicans are excited to support Trump, and by extension, Barrett.
“We are working diligently to phone bank and door knock for the elections and register Arkansas students to vote,” Phillips said.
After the initial shock of Ginsburg’s death passed, Cook said he and UAYD immediately began advocating for her seat not to be filled until after the election.
“Her last wish that she related to her family members was that she did not want to be replaced until after the election,” Cook said.
Gina Holland Shelton, a professor in the School of Journalism and Strategic Media, covered the Supreme Court for five years while working for the Associated Press. Shelton said that she regularly spent time with Ginsburg in interviews, in the courtroom, and at events.
Shelton said she wants people to honor Ginsburg’s legacy of bipartisan collegiality, and she thinks students should look to Ginsburg and Scalia’s friendly, cross-aisle relationship as a reminder to be tolerant during the upcoming election.
“I want to see students engage in political dialogue without mean spirited partisanship,” Shelton said. “I think that's the lesson from the friendship of Justices Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia. I spent time around both and talked to them about their unlikely relationship. They respected each other and were better justices because of the time they spent together.