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Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought for women’s basic rights. It’s a legacy just as powerful as her record on the Supreme Court

September 21, 2020, 12:25 PM UTC
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, photographed in the East conference room at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Friday, August 30, 2013. Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Nikki Kahn—The Washington Post/Getty Images

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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Zendaya makes history at the Emmys, the TikTok deal moves ahead, and we mourn Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Have a reflective Monday.

– RIP, RBG. If you’ve been feeling down—or worse—since Friday night, I don’t blame you. The passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg left many of us bereft—whether because of the loss of a legal titan or worry about what her departure from the bench means for the future of the Court.

This morning, I’d like to stay focused on the woman herself (read on below for more on the political implications of Ginsburg’s death). For some of us, it’s hard to remember a time when the Supreme Court justice wasn’t the Notorious RBG, a pop culture icon known as much for the style of her dissents (and their accompanying collars) as for the content of her legal decisions.

But decades before she earned the moniker as a leading voice on cases ranging from voting rights to abortion rights to equal pay, Ginsburg was doing the work in her own slow, deliberate manner. At the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project, Ginsburg slowly chipped away case by case at ways American law treated women and men differently.

Allow me to quickly list a few of the rights women and men hold thanks to Ginsburg’s revolutionary legal strategy targeting sex discrimination as it affected both genders: the ability for a woman to secure a mortgage without a man, a widower’s right to receive Social Security benefits from his late wife, the right for a woman to have a credit card independent of a man, a military husband’s ability to be his wife’s dependent, and so many more. By showing how sex discrimination hurt everyone, Ginsburg changed public and legal opinion on the issue. Years before she served on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg won five out of the six cases she argued there.

Ginsburg’s legendary work ethic—from taking her husband’s courses in law school as he was treated for cancer to the workout routine she kept up until just a few months ago—has been well-documented, from news coverage to the 2018 film On the Basis of Sex, chronicling the lawyer’s early career. Earlier this year, the TV series Mrs. America included a quick nod to “Ruth,” a shy, whip-smart lawyer who sat quietly next to the flashier feminists of the 1970s.

It’s admittedly hard to separate the meaning of the death of such a towering figure from the political context surrounding it. But as you pull out your credit card today to make a purchase, pay your mortgage, or get your next paycheck, think of the fundamental rights the justice secured for women in American law. It’s a legacy just as powerful as the one she leaves on the nation’s highest court.

Emma Hinchliffe
emma.hinchliffe@fortune.com
@_emmahinchliffe

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Supreme Court seat. After the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a fight looms over her seat; Republicans say they are aiming to fill the opening—despite having blocked President Obama's Supreme Court appointment in the last year of his term. President Trump has said he plans to nominate a woman to the spot, and leading candidates include Amy Coney Barrett, a judge chosen by Trump for the U.S. Court of Appeals seventh circuit, and Barbara Lagoa, a Trump appointee to the 11th circuit. 

- Ch-ch-ch-changes. Fortune's Change the World list is out today, featuring businesses that are doing well by doing good. Honorees include the pharmaceutical companies racing for a COVID-19 vaccine—one of those is Emma Walmsley's GlaxoSmithKline—and Grab, the ride-sharing startup cofounded by Tan Hooi Ling, for its technology connecting Southeast Asia's food vendors with customers during lockdowns. Fortune

- TV's big night. At the stay-at-home Emmys last night, Catherine O'Hara won her first acting Emmy for her role on Schitt's Creek, and Zendaya made history by becoming the youngest winner for best lead actress in a drama for her role in Euphoria. New York Times

- Ran out the clockPresident Trump approved the proposed Oracle-TikTok deal, making the tech giant led by CEO Safra Catz the "trusted technology partner" of the shortform video app led by interim CEO Vanessa Pappas. The deal now involves $5 billion to be given to a Trump-approved "education fund"—rather than a cash payment to the U.S. government, as Trump originally demanded—although that donation is only required if certain conditions are met. Fortune

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Former Okta chief customer officer Krista Anderson-Copperman joins the board of directors at Drift. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Global view. Friday was the first-ever International Equal Pay Day, a date set by the UN to mark the 23% global gender pay gap. Katica Roy, CEO of the pay equity platform Pipeline, writes for Fortune about the importance of stakeholder capitalism in closing the wage gap. Fortune

- No way, NDAs. Have non-disclosure agreements gone too far? In this piece, Ariella Steinhorn, founder of the storytelling firm Lioness, with employment attorney Vincent White argues that an overhaul is in order to invalidate NDAs when used to silence employees from speaking out about workplace discrimination or sexual harassment. Fortune

- Special skills. Erica B. Smith-Goetz, a recent Stanford Graduate School of Business alumna, conducted research about the particular skills Black startup founders have. She found common threads among these founders, from persistence developed from a lifetime of obstacles to especially strong self-awareness created by frequently navigating white spaces. Fortune

ON MY RADAR

Fed Cup to be renamed Billie Jean King Cup BBC

Queen Elizabeth II strips Harvey Weinstein of his honorary award Fortune

Apollo’s Stephanie Drescher on running a global investment firm from her living room Fortune

PARTING WORDS

"That's the dissenter's hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow."

-Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg