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Lesson Plans

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's legacy on the Supreme Court

September 19, 2020

Full Lesson



Directions: Read the summary, watch the video and answer the discussion questions. To read the transcript of the video above, click here. For a lesson on RBG, a documentary about Ginsburg’s life, click here.

NEW: NewsHour EXTRA has teamed up with Pear Deck to create weekly lesson plans that inform and engage students on topics of the day. You can access a version of this lesson and others through Pear Deck here.

Summary: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who long stood for women’s rights issues and became the court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington D.C. Ginsburg died at the age of 87 of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer. She was known for her defense of women’s rights and rights of minorities through her many years as a civil rights lawyer before taking a position on the Supreme Court in 1993. Ginsburg was often at odds with the court’s more conservative members such as the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision, which ended the vote count in Florida, and effectively led to George W. Bush’s presidential victory. 

One of Ginsburg’s most significant majority opinions included the 1996 ruling that ordered the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) to accept women or lose federal funding. During Ginsburg’s time on the bench, the court declared it unconstitutional for states to execute the intellectually disabled and those who were younger than 18-years-old at the time they committed murder.

Political implications: 

  • Justice Ginsburg’s death just over six weeks before the presidential election has placed a key spotlight on the court’s vacancy.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly promised to bring to a vote President Donald Trump’s nominee. McConnell refused to bring Justice Merrick Garland’s nomination under then President Barack Obama almost a full year before the 2016 presidential election.
  • Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden disagreed, stating that “voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice to consider.”

Warm up questions: 

  1. Who was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg?
  2. What accomplishments was Ruth Bader Ginsburg most known for?
  3. Where and when did Ginsburg serve as a justice?
  4. Why is Ginsburg’s death significant to many Americans?
  5. How might Ginsburg’s death affect the 2020 presidential election?

Focus questions:

  1. How could you find out more about Ginsburg’s life?
  2. Why do you so many young women in particular admired Ginsburg?
  3. Who do you think should nominate the next Supreme Court Justice? Explain.

Media literacy questions: Many news articles have been written paying tribute to the life of Justice Ginsburg. Other articles focus more on what will happen next in regards to filling the vacancy on the court with a presidential election looming just six weeks away and what the makeup of the court will look like without Justice Ginsburg.

  • What types of news stories about Ginsburg’s life are you most interested in reading about?
  • Where would you look to understand Ginsburg’s opinions as a justice and impact on law and constitutional questions?

More videos and readings:

‘Rest in Power’: America mourns Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

‘She would want us all to fight’: Leaders pay tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Can Trump replace Ginsburg on the Supreme Court before the election?

The Supreme Court: Balancing the Branches 


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