U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, seated in her robe, 2016 portrait
Too Much and Not Enough

Ginsburg’s death showcases how so many members of Congress and our government branches are failing us.  She was more than enough. They are nowhere near enough.  

Caricature of Gina Desiderio

By Gina Desiderio

September 22, 2020

It feels like too much. 

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday, September 18, 2020. Her death is a loss for our nation, and her life and legacy deserve their due time for reverence and mourning. There are many, many outstanding reflections already to help us honor Ginsburg and her lifetime of achievements. 

Running parallel (and probably more abundant) to these reflections are the outlooks for a future appointment. Ginsburg herself noted, in one of her final statements, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” 

“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” 

We know why this was weighing heavily on her mind in her final days. But the weight of our future should not rest on one person, as awe-inspiring as her legacy is. That’s not to reduce the magnitude of her contributions. Rather, it’s to say we shouldn’t be in this place, where we are so fearful for our futures, for human rights, equity, and justice. 

We shouldn’t be in a place where we are depending on the survival of one person. She deserved better in her final days than to fear the fallout from her death. Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse aptly explained this in her editorial, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave us more than enough. 

We need more than just one person championing justice and equality.

And indeed, there are many, many more people fighting. We can name many individuals who have been our champions, such as most recently Dawn Wooten, who has risked her life and safety to file a whistleblower complaint after witnessing medical neglect and forced hysterectomies. We have seen so many #BlackLivesMatter activists come together across the country, in peaceful protest against systemic racism, vigilante killings, police brutality, in spite of questionable federal overreach in Portland, OR, and Washington, DC. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Ambassador Gordon Sondland have seen their careers derailed after testifying in the hearings that led to the president’s impeachment. 

No, Ginsburg was never alone in her fight for justice and equality. Nor will we let her efforts for human rights die with her. Even when our government and democracy seems to be failing us. We know this, too. 

As I attempt to process my panic now, though, this is what feels so frustrating: we see too many people in high places, positions of power, not doing their jobs, failing to perform the very checks and balances upon which our democracy was founded.  

At this point, I feel like I’d settle for the representatives in our branches of government to simply uphold their oaths of office and demand their colleagues and other branches be accountable for their actions. And, uh, stop lying. 

We don’t need them all to be as awesome as the Notorious RBG. We don’t all need to agree on policy or have the same legislative goals. But our nation needs them to follow the law themselves, require honesty and integrity of their colleagues, and maintain our checks and balances.  

I’m all over the place, huh? But aren’t we all over the place, every day, with the onslaught of new attacks on human rights? It’s impossible to keep up or name all the injustices.  

So yes, Friday night was panic-inducing. Her death feels like it’s too much for us to take, too much to process at a time when we feel like there aren’t enough people in power doing their jobs. For many of us, we saw Ginsburg as the final hold out, critical in that system of checks and balances we’ve always been told were there to protect us. Now, in a world without Ginsburg, the scales are finally tipped too far out of balance.  

Many of us are fearful that justice will not prevail. The past few years have taught us that our democracy’s system of checks and balances, at best are slow, and at worst, have already failed.

More than once in recent years, I have recalled Martin Luther King, Jr.’s oft-repeated reminder, popularized by President Obama, that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Change takes a long time, but it does happen.” 

It takes a long time, not just because the change we’re talking about, at a societal or systemic level, is so massive, but also because sometimes we take a step backward.  

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Change takes a long time, but it does happen.” 

One person dying can’t make us take a step backward. Or at least it shouldn’t. 

If we are taking a step backward, it is because of many, many people voting, and many members of Congress and the executive branch failing to do their duty, uphold their oaths of office.   

So, we do what we can.

We write to our members of Congress. We call out injustices. We listen to the scientists for the truth. We try to see our privilege, uncover systemic racism, and see it for the disparities it creates. We fight for bodily autonomy for all people because citizenship doesn’t change your right to make decisions for your body. We push for access to health care for all. We declare the sex ed is a human right, and adolescents have a right to live their authentic sexuality. We vote. And we can try to help others vote.  

This is the cycle at least my brain has been on for the past few days. From desperation to determination and back again. Ginsburg’s death showcases how so many members of Congress and our government branches are failing our country and the foundation of democracy.  

She was more than enough. They are nowhere near enough.  

And so, it comes back to us, to rise up and carry on. To continue the fight. To be too much—too much resistance, too many votes, too many voices demanding justice, so that together, we can be enough. 

Gina Desiderio, MA, is Director of Communications for Healthy Teen Network and oversees all of our communications and dissemination. Working here has only sometimes prepared Gina for spontaneous sex-positive conversations with her two young sons. Read more about Gina