When Polly Baca, a trailblazing politician and activist, was in high school in Greeley 60 years ago, she thought about becoming an attorney.
But when she researched women in law, she could only find five female lawyers in the entire country — all in corporate law. So Baca decided it wouldn’t be in the cards.
Around the same time, some 2,000 miles away, a woman named Ruth Bader Ginsburg didn’t see many female role models in the profession either.
“And yet she persisted,” Baca said.
As the nation mourns the Supreme Court justice, Baca and other Colorado leaders came out Tuesday to express a sense of loss and to commemorate the feminist icon’s crowning achievements, which continue to reverberate through workplaces and courtrooms across the country.
The speakers stood on the steps of the History Colorado Center, transformed over the past three days into a series of murals, chalk drawings and quotes, illustrating Ginsburg’s lifelong pursuit of equal rights.
For many politicians, citizens and aspiring attorneys, Ginsburg wasn’t just a Supreme Court justice.
She was a hero. A role model.
“There is not a single person standing here right now … whose life has not been fundamentally changed by Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Colorado Supreme Court Justice Melissa Hart said Tuesday.
As a college student, Hart remembered sitting in Harvard’s library for hours to research an assignment about women in the workplace. She poured over legal opinions until midnight, the books stacking high.
“What I didn’t know, but I later came to understand, is that many of the opinions that I read that night were shaped and argued by Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Hart said. “She had changed the law, and in seeing the way that the law changed and the way that it changed people’s lives, my life was fundamentally altered because I knew that this was the direction that I needed to go.”
While Ginsburg will mostly be remembered for her work on the nation’s highest court, one of her first major wins came just down the street from the museum, at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The 1972 case, Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, was the first gender-discrimination suit Ginsburg ever argued, and became the foundation for her work striking down barriers for equal rights.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, who clerked for Ginsburg in the mid-1990s, said he feels a sense of responsibility to continue her legacy.
“What Justice Ginsburg never lost sight of is the question: What is my part in working towards a more perfect union?” Weiser said. “And she found her part — she found it by refusing to be silenced.”
That refusal to stay silent led to groundbreaking victories for women across myriad professional fields and everyday life. On Tuesday, those achievements were celebrated through placards alongside the museum, illustrating the fruits of Ginsburg’s arduous labor.
“If you can attend the military academy as a woman … thank RBG,” one poster read.
“If you can apply for a loan without a husband’s approval … thank RBG,” another said.
The chalk drawings will wash away with the next rainstorm, but museum officials expect the massive “RBG” street mural and portrait to last up to two years.
Ginsburg’s legacy, however, will continue in the form of law students such as Camille Moore.
After Ginsburg’s death last week, Moore, a law school student at the University of Denver, stayed up late with her classmates, crying and talking.
“The agreement at the end of that was that we would do something that she continues to push for us to do,” Moore said. “Which was: When you see a door, knock it down.”
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