UMass Law scholars discuss RBG’s legacy, future of the Court

Oct 8, 2020

For UMass Law professor Frances Rudko, one of the most admirable qualities of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was her dedication to ensuring women’s equality.

Rudko spoke about Ginsburg’s legacy with three other panelists at a virtual discussion on Oct. 7 hosted by UMass Law.

She noted that while Ginsburg only wrote one landmark decision on gender equality — a 1996 decision that struck down the Virginia Military Institute's male-only admissions policy — the justice made sure that women’s issues like reproductive rights were front and center in all of her opinions. 

“The most important thing women have that has in fact signaled their progress is their right to make reproductive choices,” Rudko said. “And I want to salute her for that.” 

Third year law student and student bar association president Natalie Newsom said that Ginsburg is the reason she went to law school, and that her death was especially tragic for her.

“Seeing a woman on the highest court in the land was very important to me as a young person,” she said. 

Along with Ginsburg’s legacy, the hour long talk for UMass Law students highlighted national discussions surrounding the politicization of the judiciary, the upcoming election, and any potential court packing.

Law student Shea Haze recalled how president Franklin Roosevelt attempted to add more justices to the Court to pass more of his New Deal programs, only for his own party to reject the idea.

The panel also addressed the political implications of Ginsburg’s death, as Senate Republicans continue with plans to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court — most notably, how Barrett on the bench could affect Roe v. Wade, which granted women the right to an abortion in 1973.

Constitutional law professor Dwight Duncan stated that while he is in favor of overturning the landmark case, he does not think it’s likely to happen, noting that only Justice Clarence Thomas is on the record about wanting to overturn the decision.

He said that he does not believe Barrett, who added her name to a group that signed a "right to life ad" in 2006, would overturn Roe because “she values the role of precedent.” 

“I don’t think they have the five votes to do it or anything close to that,” Duncan said.