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Women Of Ohio’s Judiciary Remember Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Melody Stewart with a portrait of Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg, O'Connor, Sotomayor and Kagan
Melody Stewart
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Melody Stewart with a portrait of Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg, O'Connor, Sotomayor and Kagan

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Melody Stewart said she was in “utter shock” when she learned U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away.

Ginsburg died on Friday at the age of 87 of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer.

“I know that that sounds hard to believe, based on her age and her health issues,” Stewart told ideastream in Cleveland on Saturday. “But she's just one of those people who I thought would live on forever, theoretically speaking.”

Stewart said it’s “truly amazing” how much of a foundation Ginsburg laid for “lawyers in this country, for women's equality in this country, and without a question, for women in the judiciary.”

Stewart considers Ginsburg a “kindred spirit,” in many ways, including because “we both keep late hours doing our work.”

“I have just always admired how even-tempered and equally applied — how she equally applies the law to every aspect of the case,” she said. “And her writing is clear. Her writing is unwavering. Her positions are so solidly based in the interpretation of the law that I find them almost to be flawless, to a large degree.”

Stewart met her judicial hero last year at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. Stewart said Ginsburg was known for wearing gloves and refraining from handshakes in public, especially in her vulnerable physical condition. So Stewart was surprised to see Ginsburg reaching out her, hand ungloved, as she stood backstage after a festival event.

“She extended her hand when I was introduced to her as a justice on the Ohio Supreme Court,” said Stewart. “[Ginsburg] extended her hand and shook mine and said, ‘It's a pleasure meeting you.’ And I told her, ‘The pleasure's all mine!’ and we just departed. I just parted ways, saying, ‘Stay strong, Justice.’ So it was a brief encounter, but one I'll never forget.”

Judge Michelle Sheehan of Ohio’s 8th District Court of Appeals said Ginsburg’s death “really does make you reflect,” adding that “it’s always been the Notorious RBG.”

Sheehan became a judge after 25 years as a litigator and said Ginsburg’s tenure as a lawyer remains inspiring because of her “creative, strategic approach in changing the law.”

“And that was before she became a [U.S. Supreme Court] justice, where she has an even larger, bigger voice on changing the law,” said Sheehan. “They don't teach you in law school enough about being creative and strategic, about how you approach your cases. And there's more than one way to approach a case, and you can really make a big impact by using a more creative strategic approach. She really influenced myself and I'm sure so many other litigators on that respect.”

Sheehan points to Ginsburg’s representation of Stephen Wiesenfeld, successfully arguing to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1975 that for the Social Security Administration to deny widower Wiesenfeld the same child care benefits that would go to a widow was gender discrimination and unconstitutional.

“She didn't give up,” Sheehan said. “When she was creative and took the case of a man, she was able to make further inroads in how the law discriminates based on sex.”

That case, Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, played prominently in the 2018 Ginsburg biopic “On the Basis of Sex,” which Sheehan saw with her two teenage daughters. Sheehan said Ginsburg’s life and career made a big impression on her daughters.

“I think young women assume that the path has been blazed ahead of them,” Sheehan said. “She is such an inspiration about taking a risk… if you work hard and you are passionate and take the risk, you can really make change. And I see [my daughters] do that with any major life decision.”

Sheehan also said when it comes to balance, Ginsburg and her 56-year “marriage of equals” with husband Martin, showed you “could have a balanced, successful career and a personal life, which is really hard to juggle.”