Candlelight vigil held for RBG in Houghton
HOUGHTON — “Be like Ruth! Be like Ruth!”
The cry came up from about 50 people who held a candlelight vigil in downtown Houghton Sunday night in memory of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Ginsburg, who had served on the court since 1993, died at the age of 87 Friday of complications from pancreatic cancer.
“She was such an icon and such an inspiration and the way she just held on these past few years when she was so ill … I’m really inspired by her,” said Joyce Wiswell of Hancock.
She had achieved legal renown before then as an advocate for women’s rights issues. In the 1970s, she argued successfully before the Supreme Court in five gender-discrimination cases, where she said the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment applied equally to men and women. She chose cases carefully, often settling on situations where the gender discrimination weighed against men.
“In her first appearance before the court, she told the justices ‘I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks,'” said speaker Valorie Troesch. “Prophetic words in 2020.”
Janet Metsa, the Democratic candidate for the state 110th District House of Representatives seat, said Ginsburg’s legacy can be seen in the women who have been able to become professionals and have equal rights and dignity in the workplace.
“When I was in high school, we weren’t even allowed to play full-court basketball because it was thought it would be injuring women,” she said. “All those protections of women infantilized us as women. And so Ruth really, really worked hard to make sure that we could accomplish our full potential as human beings.”
Appointed by President Bill Clinton, Ginsburg authored several notable majority decisions, including 1996’s United States vs. Virginia, which required the Virginia Military Institute to allow qualified women to enroll.
A member of the court’s liberal wing — a four-person minority for her entire time on the court — Ginsburg also became famed for her acerbic dissents, which she often read from the bench. She wrote for the minority in Shelby County v. Holder, which removed Voting Rights Act protections such as requiring places with a history of voting-rights violations to clear any election changes with the federal government, Ginsburg famously compared the move to “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
For Janeen Stephenson of Houghton, the event was a chance to mourn for with other people who are feeling sad about Ginsburg’s death.
“Right now, her legacy for all of us is to stay active and work for the justice that she stood for,” she said.
Ginsburg’s death touched off immediate discussions over how her court vacancy would be handled.
The election-year vacancy took on particular meaning in light of Merrick Garland, who President Obama nominated in March 2016 to replace Antonin Scalia, who had died a month earlier. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked Garland’s nomination from coming to a floor vote.
Friday, McConnell said the two cases are not comparable, since Garland was a nominee from the party that did not control the Senate.
Michigan Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, along with other Democrats, said there should be no Supreme Court nomination until the next presidential term begins.
So far, two Republican senators — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — have said they do not support voting on a nominee before the election.
Republicans currently have a 53-47 edge in the Senate, where 51 votes are needed to confirm a new justice. (In the event of a tie, Vice President Mike Pence would cast the deciding vote).
Some Senate Democrats also turned their attention to what countermeasures should be taken if the Republicans move ahead with the nomination. Friday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said if Democrats retake the Senate, “nothing is off the table” next year if Republicans fill the seat before the inauguration. Suggested ideas have included “packing” the Supreme Court by adding more judges to the court to offset the dominance of Trump-appointed judges.
Wiswell thought the nomination should be left until after the next inauguration, but doubts that will happen.
“I think it’s just really one more blow for our nation and I feel like we’re on the verge of a civil war,” she said.
Stephenson also backed waiting until a president is sworn in in January to pick a judge.
“That seems to be the only fair and just thing to do,” she said.
The vigil was organized by the Keweenaw Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and the League of Women Voters of the Copper Country.