‘Those of us who are still here need to grab that torch up and be notorious’: Virginia ACLU director remembers Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Virginia ACLU director remembers Ruth Bader Ginsburg

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The Virginia chapters Executive Director Claire Gastañaga says she owes her career to Ruth Bader’s Ginsburg’s legacy on the Supreme Court and decades fighting against gender inequality.

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg was to the women’s movement what Thurgood Marshall was to the black civil rights movement as an architecture of the legal foundation of nondiscrimination based on race; her impact on the lives of every American can not be overstated or overestimated,” said Gastañaga. “My whole career is in some respects a testament to her work and my ability to be a lawyer and to have the jobs I’ve had.”

The executive director says when graduated from law school she remembers not being able to get credit without her father or her husband cosigning a loan or document.

Growing up, Gastanga says she watched Ginsburg fight for equal rights for women in some cases by showing how gender discrimination could negatively impact men too.

“One of her first cases was about a man who was a caregiver and wasn’t being afforded the same benefits the government was giving women caregivers and I think that’s a testament to her brilliance and her understanding of strategy,” said Gastañaga. “There are just many changes that have taken place in equity and fairness that have been brought across the board to everyone because of her work.”

Gastañaga says that Ginsburg ran the ACLU’s WOmen’s Rights Project from 1972 to 1980. She adds that by 1974 over 300 sex discrimination cases seen by the Supreme Court. By 1980 she says 66% of all sex discrimination brought to the Supreme Court was done by the ACLU National Office and its affiliates.

It’s those same civil liberties that Gastanga says Ginsburg championed here in the commonwealth.

“In Virginia, she wrote the majority opinion in the case that gender-integrated at VMI so she’s had a discernible impact on Virginia Public Policy,” said Gastañaga.

Despite Ginsburg passing Gastañaga says Virginia ACLU continues to fight for equality and equity for all even if that initiative isn’t found at the federal level

“That means the ACLU if Virginia and those of us who really care about these issues working even harder to change the laws in Virginia to do things like repeal the so-called marriage amendment in our Virginia constitution to assure that no one can walk our abortion rights and reproductive freedoms back to where it was before RBG start ed her work,” said Gastañaga. “We also need to provide a backstop by focusing on changing Virginia laws and statutes to ensure that Virginians are protected even if the federal courts are not there for us.”

Gastañaga says Ginsburg who is Jewish died on the eve of the Jewish New Year, which holds significance because according to tradition, someone who dies n the eve of the new years is widely considered to be a righteous person That’s why for Gastañaga this isn’t just the passing of an icon.

"I prefer to think of it simply as she’s passed the torch and those of us who are still here need to grab that torch up and be notorious,” said Gastañaga. “We need to be sure that we’re not relying exclusively on the courts to guarantee our rights and our equity and to ensure dignity for all people.”

As of Saturday ACLU National Office has announced that the Liberty Center which organizes the women’s rights project and the voting rights project will be renamed the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Center in the supreme court justice’s honor.

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