“We the people” lost a larger-than-life champion for equality on the Supreme Court this weekend. For 27 years, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg helped move the Supreme Court into a new century of jurisprudence with thoughtful and contemporary decisions and dissents. While she will be remembered primarily for her work on gender equity, many of her decisions and dissents were particularly focused on expanding individual rights and equality to other groups. Most significant for the disability rights movement was her majority opinion in the 1999 decision Olmstead v. LC.
It is fitting that Ruth Bader Ginsburg would author the majority opinion for Olmstead. Justice Ginsburg was a master of statutory interpretation and using congressional intent to inform decisions. Her lifetime experience as an advocate certainly influenced her strong defense of individual rights and liberty. In Olmstead, she explained how the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act provided clear proof of Congress’ intent for people with disabilities to live in the community. Furthermore, she made it crystal clear that the Americans with Disabilities Act established that unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination. With these important decisions, the disability rights movement gained a foothold to advance the struggle for full participation and right to live in the community.
Justice Ginsburg also made Supreme Court decisions more accessible. Her fervent prose protecting individual rights and equality was the subject of countless memes, quotes and other social media content that often went “viral.” Her life inspired a full-length feature movie and several documentaries and she became revered and a role model for a generation of you people, primarily women, who understood that she paved the way for all the opportunities that women have today. An entire generation of Americans reverently referred to her as “The Notorious RBG” for her scathing oratory aimed at anyone who would deny individual rights. She held nothing back while moving our country forward to a more contemporary and expansive definition of equality for all.