DENVER (CBS4) - Coloradans reacting to the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday remembered her for her contributions to the country that directly impacted the work toward equal rights in this state. She also inspired many Americans to fight sexual discrimination and pursue careers in law. While Colorado candidates for the Senate answered questions on Saturday about the political impact of her suddenly vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, the Colorado Women's Bar Association wants to honor her for a legacy that will be celebrated for generations.
"Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was true trailblazer, she was a fighter for equality for women and for all of us," said Miranda Hawkins, president of the CWBA. "She fought tirelessly to make our legal system and our nation more just, equitable, and inclusive. "
Justice Ginsburg spoke at a University of Colorado Law School event in 2003 and attended an event hosted by the Colorado Women's Bar Association during that visit. They presented her with their highest honor, the Mary Lathrop Trailblazer Award, named after the first Colorado woman to start a law firm in 1897. The organization is the second largest of its kind in the country, it shared a photo of Ginsburg online with members during another visit in 1994.
She became an honorary lifetime member of the CWBA in 2015, the 1,000th woman to join.
"She was a fierce advocate for gender equality and reproductive rights, she was a shining role model for women lawyers, and all women, because she showed us what was possible," Hawkins told CBS4 on Saturday. "She's a true role model for all of us, she started the way, she paved the way for women to follow after her."
Hawkins became president of the CWBA in May, joining herself in 2007. A lawyer for 21 years, she specializes in estate planning and probate administration at her law firm, Goddard Hawkins. The association is nonpartisan and has members in both major political parties. As they choose to focus on her lasting contributions to the law and fight for women's rights, the country is already looking closely at the role her spot on the high court will play in the upcoming election.
The president, leaders in Congress, and the former vice president have all weighed in on when Ginsburg's seat should be filled. The issue has also come up in the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Cory Gardner and former Gov. John Hickenlooper.
"We have some time for this country to reflect on the legacy of a great woman who lead to our nation's highest court and the work she has done for this nation whether you agree or not," Sen. Gardner said during a candidate forum in Grand Junction on Saturday. "There is time for debate, there is time for politics, but the time for now is to pray for the family."
President Donald Trump has said he would like to nominate a new justice before the November election, and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has already promised that person will receive a vote.
Trump's Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, disagrees and wants to wait until after voters decide who will be in the White House next year.
Gardner was asked specifically about his statement in 2016 to delay the nomination process for the replacement chosen by then-President Barack Obama after Justice Antonin Scalia passed away. The senator agreed then to wait until after the election, but he avoided explaining how he would vote this time and when a nominee should be selected.
"We need to make sure that Senator Gardner upholds the commitment he made four years ago, it's the same circumstances, except more so," Hickenlooper said to his supporters Saturday on a video conference call. "The Senate must not confirm a new justice until the American people have weighed in at the ballot box."
The anticipation over what will happen between now and Nov. 3 did not stop Hawkins and her members from looking back at the many achievements in Ginsburg's life. Not only did they admire her for becoming the second woman on the Supreme Court but also for Ginsburg's work as a litigator.
Her first major case involved a man from Colorado filing for discrimination against the IRS while trying to receive a tax deduction.
Hawkins also believes the justice's struggles in life helped other women view her as a role model. Ginsburg said she had a hard time finding a job after graduating top of her class. As a Jewish woman and a mother, she believed she had many strikes against her in the eyes of potential employers.
"It's like if you can see it, you can be it," Hawkins said. "I think that's one of the things that makes her so relatable to women, and women lawyers in particular, we all have our own struggles and she went through her own struggles as well."
The CWBA followed the example made by Ginsburg's career when they pushed for the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act passed in Colorado last year. She continues to inspire them as they work toward getting more female judges. Ginsburg once said there would be enough women on the Supreme Court when there are nine.
"There's always work to be done with bringing equal rights to women. And in terms of her legacy, the work that she's already done that made it even possible for us," Hawkins said. "The Colorado Women's Bar Association works very hard to get more women on the bench, we provide training programs for how women can apply to judicial appointments."
The next several weeks will revolve around who will be the next associate justice to join the highest court in the land. But well after that is determined, the members of the CWBA will still be thinking about the woman who previously occupied that seat. An icon who helped them pursue this profession and likely will encourage many of their daughters and granddaughters to join them.
"Her fierce dedication for fighting, for women's equality, gender equality, reproductive freedom, and also just being that shining role model for all women and women in the law," Hawkins said. "I feel a sense of sadness, from a lot of our members, also just a deep sense of reverence, a deep respect for the pioneering work that she did, that helps lay the pathway for all of us going forward."
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