Dozens of Michiganders gathered at the Hall of Justice in Lansing on Saturday night to hold a candlelight vigil honoring the life and legacy of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Ginsburg, the second ever woman to serve on the Supreme Court, died Friday afternoon at age 87 from complications from metastatic cancer of the pancreas.
Ginsburg’s death sets up a fierce fight in the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate over whether to confirm a Supreme Court nominee during a presidential election in which ballots are already being cast. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Friday said he would hold hearings, which he refused to do for Merrick Garland, President Obama’s last nominee for the Supreme Court in 2016.
In the days before her death, Ginsburg dictated a statement saying her “most fervent wish” is that she “not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
However, President Trump has already vowed to replace her, with his campaign sending out a fundraising email Saturday night with the subject line: “FILL THAT SEAT.”
Amanda West, director of government relations at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, which organized the event, said that the fight to ensure Ginsburg’s final wish will be a priority.
“We feel a tremendous loss right now and we know that you join us in that. Our hearts are heavy as we say goodbye to our hero,” West said. “We know the best way to honor her work and secure the future she fought for is to ensure her dying wish is fulfilled – that a new Supreme Court justice is nominated by the person elected in November. We will continue her fight.”
Before President Bill Clinton nominated her for the high court in 1993, Ginsburg was best known for taking on gender discrimination cases. On the Supreme Court, she was a fierce champion for women’s rights, disability rights and voting rights, writing some of the court’s most memorable recent dissents, such as in the 2013 case Shelby v. Holder, which scrapped part of the Voting Rights Act.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered all Michigan and U.S. flags to be lowered on state grounds in honor of Ginsburg until her internment. The governor said she was “heartbroken” by Ginsburg’s passing.
“Her intellect, her razor sharp wit, and her lifetime of service to our nation made her an inspiration to millions of Americans,” Whitmer said. “I know there are a lot of women who are feeling worried right now about what this means for the future of our country.
“One thing I learned watching Justice Ginsburg’s fearless battles with cancer and injustice is that you never give up, and you never stop fighting for the values we hold dear as Americans. The best way to honor Justice Ginsburg’s memory is by making our voices heard at the ballot box this November. Register to vote, request an absentee ballot, and return it quickly. Let us turn our grief into action, let us choose hope over fear, and let us find the strength to build a stronger America for everyone.”
Kristi Petroff, an attendee at the vigil, said that she was “still in shock and still processing it and how much of an effect this is going to have on the future.”
But attending an event like the vigil helped focus her grief, Petroff said.
“We were just talking about the positive energy and coming here with people who you know think the same way that you do and how fulfilling that is to come and share that time and space,” Petroff said.
Hilary Waddles, a special education teacher in the Lansing school district, agreed.
“I really felt like I needed to be out with people – I live alone – and not just sitting in my apartment being alone,” Waddles said.
Waddles said she is “really worried but trying to be hopeful” about the future, pointing to this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests as a sign of progress.
“I think people will talk about this summer being a bad thing because of all the protests and all the things that have happened, but that’s change. That’s how change happens,” Waddles said. “People are talking about things now. As a black woman, it’s very good to see our allies really stepping up and saying ‘okay, we really have to do something, we can’t just speak any more.’ So, I feel positive about the future.”
And while Waddles recognized that 2020 has been full of unexpected bad news, including a global pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans, she said she remains optimistic.
“I feel that young people now are a lot more on the ball and involved than I was when I was young many years ago. Anything can happen and these are scary times, for sure, but I’m going to be hopeful,” Waddles said. “I try to have perspective. We’ve, as Americans in the 20th and 21st Century, been very sheltered from a lot of things that other people and other times and places have gone through. They got through it, and so will we.”