Many will remember Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a stalwart defender of women’s rights and gender equality. She also made a positive and lasting impact on environmental decisions that protect our greatest natural resources and buffer Americans from the worst effects of climate change.
“Our communities are safer, healthier and more free because of RBG,” said League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski.
Ginsburg, who was 87 years old when she died, held one of the majority opinions in the 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA ruling that said the Clean Air Act allowed the Obama administration to set carbon pollution limits on automobiles and factories, Politico reports. It was the moment that greenhouse gases became a federal issue.
Four years later, Ginsburg and her fellow justices agreed in unanimity in the American Electric Power v. Connecticut ruling that the EPA should be actively limiting carbon pollution in the U.S.
“The Act itself thus provides a means to seek limits on emissions of carbon dioxide from domestic power plants—the same relief the plaintiffs seek by invoking federal common law,” Ginsburg wrote in American Electric Power. “We see no room for a parallel track.”
According to Scientific American, Ginsburg’s opinions played a critical role two Clean Water Act cases: Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. Army Corps of Engineers and Rapanos v. United States, in which “expressed support for a more expansive definition of jurisdictional waters under the Clean Water Act.”
“Through her expansive mind, sound temperament and unwavering judicial integrity, she plied the Constitution as a living instrument of American life, lending it meaning in the life of us all,” said Gina McCarthy, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council and former EPA administrator.
Ginsburg understood the urgency of reducing pollution and the threat of the current climate crisis. She knew that generations that came after would have an even greater fight for survival.
And she was inspired by those who are taking action.
“The young people that I see are fired up, and they want our country to be what it should be,” she once said of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. “One of the things that makes me an optimist are the young people.”
Ginsburg was the oldest justice on the Supreme Court and in her later years suffered from multiple health issues including cancer in her liver and pancreas. She died due to complications from metastatic pancreas cancer on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.