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Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at a Penn Law symposium in Feb. 2018, the first of two events Penn Law held to celebrate her 25 years of service on the Supreme Court. Credit: Mona Lee

Penn students are mourning the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court and a trailblazing advocate for women's rights, who died of pancreatic cancer on Friday.

Ginsburg, 87, was widely known for advocating for women's rights in her career as a lawyer and for her dissents on the Court. Upon her death, students said they were personally moved by her advances for women and now fear the political consequences of her death under the leadership of President and 1968 Wharton graduate Donald Trump — just weeks before the election.

College sophomore Emilia Onuonga, who is considering a career in law herself, said she sees Ginsburg as a pioneer for women in the legal field who laid the groundwork for students like her. Ginsburg, also the first Jewish woman to serve on the Supreme Court, was one of nine women in the class of 1959 at Harvard Law School. 

“Recently in class, we were talking about abortion, and there were only males speaking,” Onuonga said. “I was like, oh my goodness, this is what I’m going to have to go through, and that's what RBG had to go through.”

College sophomore Natalie Heller said she has always considered Ginsburg to be a role model because of her relentless advocacy for women’s rights. Heller said she also admired Ginsburg’s hard work in her personal life, mentioning how she cared for her husband when he was diagnosed with cancer and helped him through law school while getting her own degree.  

“Her dedication to her own career, to women's rights, and to her family all at the same time just make her such an important person to look up to,” Heller said.

College sophomore Talia Schor said some Jewish people believe that those who die just before Rosh Hashanah begins, as Ginsburg did, are considered especially righteous among the Jewish community.

“She was emblematic not only to what feminists stood for, but also what Jews stood for, and she was someone who a lot of Jews are really proud to have as a part of our community,” Schor said.

While students were met with grief upon Ginsburg's death, they also expressed concern about the imminent political implications for the Supreme Court. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced on Friday that he would hold a vote to confirm a justice nominated by Trump, breaking a precedent he set in 2016 to not hold a vote on justices in a presidential election year.

As he enters his final year of law school, third-year Penn Law and Communications Ph.D. candidate Sanjay Jolly said he does not feel optimistic at the prospect of Trump appointing a third justice to the Court.

"It's pretty dark entering the profession at a time where the judiciary seems primed to take this very right-wing turn in jurisprudence," Jolly said.

Jolly said that he entered law school during the hearings for Brett Kavanaugh's nomination in 2018, during which Kavanaugh was confirmed despite resurfaced sexual assault allegations made against him during the hearing.

"If it's anything like the Kavanaugh confirmation, it's not only going to be ugly, but I think it's really going to show how fundamentally empty the heights of this profession are," Jolly said.

Heller said she fears a Trump-appointed nominee would be a step backward for the nation's abortion rights and LGBTQ rights. Trump has promised to nominate a woman to fill Ginsburg's seat.

“It's definitely not judges that Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be happy to see as her legacy, and that's really frustrating,” she said.

After hearing the news of Ginsburg's death, Schor said she became worried about the future of the court, and in particular, the future of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case protecting abortion rights, which Ginsburg championed. Schor believes the best way to honor Ginsburg’s legacy is to demand that senators respect her final wish that she not be replaced on the Court until a new president is inaugurated.

Onuonga, who serves as the Vice President of Penn Democrats, said she and Penn Dems plan to write and make calls to legislators urging them to oppose a vote on a justice nominated by Trump.

“If Trump does appoint someone, it’s going to be 6-3 conservative leaning, which basically means that we're in trouble for a couple of decades,” Onuonga said.