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St. Petersburg mourners fear for Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legacy

More than 100 attended a candlelight vigil held in honor of the Supreme Court Justice, who died at the age of 87.
 
More than 100 people gathered to honor the legacy of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg on Saturday night in front of the St. Petersburg Judicial Building.
More than 100 people gathered to honor the legacy of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg on Saturday night in front of the St. Petersburg Judicial Building. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Sept. 20, 2020|Updated Sept. 20, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — One by one, the women took to the podium outside of the St. Petersburg Judicial Building to speak next to a framed photo of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Behind them, the American flag waved at half-staff in her honor.

They spoke Saturday night to mourn Ginsburg, honor her legacy and demand that Republicans not rush to fill her seat before the winner of the 2020 presidential election is decided.

“She never wavered, she never rested and ... she never even retired,” said St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice. “RBG’s legacy transcends one community. She was a trailblazer for all of us: Women, Jewish people, LGBTQ folks, people of color, the underrepresented and Americans as a whole.”

They praised Ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the nation’s highest court, for spending her long legal career as an attorney and as a judge fighting for the rights of women and minorities right up until her death Friday at the age of 87.

Related: Trump considering this Florida justice to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Sisters Hero Freisberg, 5, Huckleberry Freisberg, 9 and Pheonix Freisberg listen to speakers talk along about the legacy of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to more than 100 people who gathered at a Saturday night vigil in her honor outside the St. Petersburg Judicial Building.
Sisters Hero Freisberg, 5, Huckleberry Freisberg, 9 and Pheonix Freisberg listen to speakers talk along about the legacy of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to more than 100 people who gathered at a Saturday night vigil in her honor outside the St. Petersburg Judicial Building. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Rice said she not only felt pained by the justice’s passing, but said she also feared that President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will move quickly to replace the court’s progressive leader with a conservative justice.

“I dissent to Mitch McConnell ignoring Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dying wish — an appointment even before we vote Trump out of office,” Rice said.

The speakers all spoke with a sense of urgency and determination for the political battles to come.

“The consequences of Justice Ginsburg’s death are real and we must ask ourselves tonight what happens next,” said activist Kasey McNaughton. "I know it feels too soon to discuss this, but Mitch McConnell and the Republican Party are gunning for a fight and that’s what they’re going to get.

“The next justices we appoint will build on the legacy of Justice Ginsburg and fight to uphold our civil liberties — that’s why we fight now and mourn later in her name.”

More than 100 people gathered to honor the legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg on Saturday night in front of the St. Petersburg Judicial Building.
More than 100 people gathered to honor the legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg on Saturday night in front of the St. Petersburg Judicial Building. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Ginsburg’s death was especially hard for 22-year-old Rebecca Nero, a USF St. Petersburg student who helped organize Saturday’s vigil. She said the justice was a role model who paved the path for women like her to be able to pursue legal careers.

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The student noted that Ginsburg was one of the first women to attend Harvard Law School — her 1956 class had nine women among more than 500 men.

“She broke the barriers,” Nero said. “She paved the way for women like me. As someone who comes from working-class teachers and construction workers, I never thought about becoming a lawyer. ... She has left an impact on me that I don’t think any speech could ever articulate.”

Nero said that after she graduates from USF St. Petersburg, she plans to attend Rutgers Law School, where Ginsburg served as a professor from 1963 to 1972.

Nearly all of the attendees of the vigil wore masks and held lit candles as they listened to the speakers. Many wore shirts promoting political candidates — including a number in favor of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris — and some wore collars that harkened back to the flashy neckwear that Ginsburg famously adorned her Supreme Court robes with.

In this Jan. 25, 2011 photo, President Barack Obama hugs Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Capitol Hill in Washington,  prior to delivering his State of the Union address. From left are, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Anthony Kennedy, Obama, Justice Ginsburg and Justice Stephen Breyer.
In this Jan. 25, 2011 photo, President Barack Obama hugs Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Capitol Hill in Washington, prior to delivering his State of the Union address. From left are, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Anthony Kennedy, Obama, Justice Ginsburg and Justice Stephen Breyer. [ PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS | AP ]

Chris Hammonds showed up to the vigil wearing a blue Tampa Bay Lightning jersey. Even though the Lightning were about to play in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final (and lose 4-1 to the Dallas Stars) he said it was important to honor a woman who did so much for her country — even if that meant missing some hockey.

“There are some things that are more important than sports — more important than anything,” said Hammonds, who is a Pinellas-Pasco assistant public defender. “Supporting what she stood for and what she believed is much more important than anything else tonight.”