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Hear RBG's most memorable speeches
02:44 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

One year after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, schools and hospitals have been christened for her, scholarly awards created in her name and artworks designed with her visage.

Ginsburg’s pioneering women’s rights legacy endures, along with the signature lace-collar motif on T-shirts and trinkets.

But there’s another vestige of Ginsburg’s legacy that has captured national attention over the past year, the one left by her September 18, 2020, death that allowed President Donald Trump to name a third conservative justice – the one that now threatens Roe v. Wade and that lingers as 83-year-old Justice Stephen Breyer deflects questions regarding when he will retire.

Liberals today are reconciling the mixed legacies of Ginsburg, who died at age 87 after rejecting earlier calls from her own admirers to step down.

As the court flexes the muscle of its new conservative supermajority, many liberals bemoan Ginsburg’s refusal to retire while Democratic President Barack Obama was in office and could have named her successor. Some law professor critics, writing in The New York Times, Washington Post and elsewhere, have made that refusal the starting point for their disapproval of Breyer’s delayed retirement.

Other liberals, however, offer a nuanced assessment of Ginsburg’s past and America’s present.

“There’s no way she would have wanted the court to be in the place that it is today. But we can’t go back and change that fact,” says Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center. “I don’t think it undermines the dramatic work she did, for decades and decades, to protect women. … Do I wish that she was replaced by someone else? Absolutely. But I don’t think she’s the only one to blame here for that.”

Ginsburg’s memory, one year after her death from complications of cancer, holds multiple dimensions – as did her life. She first achieved national prominence as an in-the-trenches women’s rights advocate. She argued six cases before the Supreme Court, winning five of them and helping to guarantee greater equality under the law based on sex.

The Brooklyn-born Ginsburg became a justice in 1993 and, after a reputation as a moderate jurist on a lower US appellate court, began amassing a distinctively liberal record. By the time she died, Ginsburg was known largely for her dissents, as well as the opera-loving, weight-lifting persona she cultivated.

In 2013, a law student had dubbed her the “Notorious RBG” after Ginsburg penned a caustic dissenting opinion in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, as the majority rolled back protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The meme went viral, and the reserved jurist became something of a rock star, especially to young women.

A year before her death, as she was fulfilling a speaking commitment in Buffalo even after discovering a recurrence of pancreatic cancer, she told the audience: “It was beyond my wildest imagination that I would one day become the ‘Notorious RBG.’”

Earlier, when liberals were urging her to retire, particularly when President Obama had the benefit of a Democratic-majority Senate, Ginsburg asked rhetorically in one 2014 interview, “So tell me who the President could have nominated this spring that you would rather see on the court than me?”

But two years later the fundamentals of Supreme Court nominations changed and for Ginsburg the stakes shot up. When Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016 and Obama nominated then-Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked all action on the nomination.