By Atty. Howie Calleja
Last Friday, we lost an icon in the legal profession and a role model for young women across the world. The vigils all over the United States are indicative of the amazing life Ruth Bader Ginsburg has led, and the work that she has done to inspire millions.
As a lawyer, she became known for her work arguing for the application of the Equal Protection Clause to laws that discriminated on the basis of gender, including battles to allow men married to military women to receive full benefits as dependents and for women to be recognized as equally capable as men to be designated as administrators of estates. Such masterful and necessary work brought the US Supreme Court to acknowledge the country’s history of gender-based discrimination and led to the courts recognizing the need for the use of a strict standard of judicial scrutiny for laws that used sex as a classification.
Throughout her tenure as a Supreme Court Justice, she became an icon for women’s rights. She authored opinions that struck down male-only admission policy for military institutes and consistently dissented in issues of pay discrimination and reproductive health. Her accomplishments included being the first woman member of the Harvard Law Review, the co-founder of the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, and the second woman to sit on the bench of the United States’ highest Court.
Throughout her incredible career, she remained to be known as a cautious jurist, who aimed to build tentatively on precedent, rather than serving her own vision and ideals. After surviving four previous bouts of cancer, her dying wish was to not be replaced until a new President was elected. With the US Elections fast approaching this November, a nomination would heavily affect the balance between the three branches of government as it would tip the balance of the court from a 5-to-4 conservative majority to 6-to-3. This realization further stresses the importance of an independent judiciary.
September 18, 2020 did not only mark the death of “Notorious R.B.G.”, but also saw our country being faced with the compulsory retirement of Supreme Court Associate Justice Jose Calayag Reyes. It is within the next ninety days that a Duterte appointee will be replaced by another Duterte appointee. By the end of the President’s term, it is likely that he will have put thirteen out of fifteen Justices on the bench of the highest court in our land. With another nomination afoot for our own Supreme Court, we can only hope that the new Justice would be inspired by the life of Ginsberg to be a trailblazer for justice and equality in the country.
In our nation’s history, we have had a total of seventeen women on the bench, including the likes of Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma, Justice Minita Chico-Nazario, and Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales. Currently, four women sit as Associate Justices of the Supreme Court. I hope that it is not just one of them, but all of them, who become the picture of upholding the rule of law in the country and inspire the next generation of female lawyers.
Perhaps no other decision will test our Supreme Court like the upcoming arguments for the Anti-Terrorism Act. It is then that the public can truly see if the majority of Duterte nominees are, indeed, an independent judiciary. How will the ponente write to defend the rights of the Filipino and who will stand with those fearful of their life?