Perhaps the most important civil rights cases ever to be heard were a series of suits deliberately engineered by Charles Hamilton Houston (mentor of Thurgood Marshall was one of the least of his accomplishments) to test the meaning of “separate but equal”.
While the general public remembers Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas, SCOTUS’ decision in that case was unanimous only because of the Socratic groundwork laid in earlier cases that targeted law schools. There were several that attempted to nail down the legal deficiencies of Jim Crow before activists pushed to desegregate K-12 schools. One of the last was Sweatt v. Painter, which challenged the University of Texas’ regime. UofT attempted several tactics, but one of the last was the emergency creation of an ad hoc Blacks-only law school at a separate location.
RBG’s first historically important decision was the VMI case styled US v. Virginia, where the last public, men-only college or university was challenged. Virginia, too, set up a special military academy for women as a last ditch attempt to evade integration, but it fell to Ginsburg in her first important case to declare that the deficiencies of racially segregated eduction were just as unconstitutional when they appeared in the context of gender segregated education.
This is how I will remember RBG: from the beginning of her career on SCOTUS she was fighting a rear guard action against the regressives who were unwilling to admit that precedents or principles existed, that certain issues had been decided, that certain values held constitutional significance.
The most obvious of such fights is the struggle to preserve the rights of privacy, autonomy & conscience embedded in the reasoning of Griswold, Eisenstadt, Roe, and Casey. But this is far from the only battle in which she played the rear guard, making the argument for constitutional values that most of us wander about life not noticing are still being questioned, still under attack. Shelby County v. Holder was another, though in that case less successful, instance.
Shelby County notwithstanding, she has been wonderfully effective in this role, and to lose her at any time is tragic. To lose her during this presidency is devastating.