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Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The environmental activist

Updated: Apr 21

Publication Date: October 14, 2020

Cartoon Ruth Bader Ginsburg drops a mic and a gavel

If you were on campus Sept. 18, you may have noticed that the flag outside of Moore Library, and flags across the country, were flying at half-mast. On that day, three weeks ago, we lost one of the country’s strongest Supreme Court Justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ginsburg lost her final battle with cancer at the age of 87 after a long career as a champion for gender equality, being only the second woman to ever serve on the nation’s highest court. Adjunct Rider faculty member John Tedeschi said of Ginsburg, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a great aspect of our environment and the Rider environment. She has truly changed our world for the better.”

Ginsburg’s most prominent lasting impression is of the enormous strides she has made as an activist for women’s rights, but she was also a major contributor to environmental action during her time as a Supreme Court Justice. Muriel Baki, a sophomore arts and entertainment industry management major and Eco-Rep, stated, “Ruth Bader Ginsberg is an incredible example of how there isn’t really a separation between being a feminist, an environmentalist, and a civil rights activist. She was the perfect example of what it means to care about all aspects of an issue, not just where it manifests itself visually.”

Ginsburg voted on landmark decisions in the fight for climate action such as the 2007 Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which determined that the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon emissions from vehicles. This then gave the administration of President Barack Obama  the ability to regulate greenhouse gases from cars and trucks at a federal level for the first time in history.

After this case, Ginsburg authored another in 2011, American Electric Power v. Connecticut, that reaffirmed the EPA’s power to regulate and monitor carbon emissions that were established through the previously mentioned case. This case, however, set her apart from other climate activists because, although she then ruled against states attempting to sue private energy companies, the EPA’s federal jurisdiction took precedent over the state’s claims asserting that the federal government would be the body taking definitive action against climate change. 

Throughout her career, Ginsburg demonstrated a tendency towards nuanced decisions. As demonstrated by her position on American Electric Power v. Connecticut, she did not always take the most obvious route in her support of environmental issues, but she voted in such a way that ruled on the most constitutional and strong course of action in combating climate change. Ginsburg holds her “notorious” title for being one of the most talented lawyers to serve on this country’s highest court and, with that, came to her extraordinary integrity. As stated in an article from Bloomberg Law, “Environmental advocates appearing before Ginsburg knew that justice was never a vote they could assume. Her vote always had to be earned. And the only way to earn that vote would be the force and persuasiveness of their legal arguments.”

President of the Natural Resources Defense Council and former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said of Ginsburg, “Through her expansive mind, sound temperament and unwavering judicial integrity, she plied the Constitution as a living instrument of American life, lending it meaning in the life of us all.” 

Ginsburg’s impact will be a long-lasting one. Her lifelong commitment to making the world a better, kinder and more just place for all will not be forgotten. 


Emma Harris

Rider Eco-Rep

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