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Award ceremony canceled after Ginsburg family calls honorees 'affront'

The family of late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the list of honorees a "betrayal" to her legacy.
Posted at 1:56 PM, Mar 19, 2024

A ceremony for an award named after late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been canceled following controversy over some of this year's honorees, which include:

- Elon Musk (entrepreneurship)

- Sylvester Stallone (cultural icon)

- Martha Stewart (industry leadership)

- Michael Milken (philanthropy)

- Rupert Murdoch (media mogul)

According to the Dwight D. Opperman Foundation, the nonprofit established the RBG Leadership Award in 2020 as a way to "recognize women of distinction" and causes that reflect those Ginsburg supported. Previous winners include Queen Elizabeth II and Barbra Streisand.

However, the Opperman Foundation expanded the award this year to include "trailblazing men and women" leaders who "have demonstrated extraordinary accomplishments in their chosen fields." 

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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and President Bill Clinton in 1993
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The decision to include just one woman and four men — some of whom have controversial backgrounds — drew harsh criticism from Ginsburg's family, who called it an "affront" and "betrayal" to the late justice's values and historic achievements.

"This year, the Opperman Foundation has strayed far from the original mission of the award and from what Justice Ginsburg stood for," the justice's daughter Jane Ginsburg said in a letter obtained by NBC News. 

In response to the backlash, Opperman Foundation Chairman Julie Opperman published a letter Monday announcing that the 2024 RBG Leadership Award Ceremony is being called off. 

"It is important to note, that the last thing we intended was to offend the family and friends of RBG. Our purpose was only to remember her and to honor her leadership," the letter reads. "And, while we believe each of the honorees is worthy of our respect for their leadership and their notable contributions, the Foundation has decided that the planned ceremony in April 2024 will be canceled." 

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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
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The list of honorees also drummed up a response from the Library of Congress, which distanced itself from the Opperman Foundation, deflecting all backlash back on the nonprofit. 

"Clarification: While the Library of Congress is the venue for the upcoming Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Leadership Award ceremony, the award is not otherwise affiliated with the Library," the agency said in a statement. 

As a military spouse with an infant in the 1950s, Ginsburg understood the challenges women faced in the workplace and spent her career advocating for women's rights. She was appointed as the 107th Justice on the Supreme Court in 1993 and was the first Jewish woman and second woman on the court.

As Ginsburg once famously said, "Women belong in all places where decisions are being made." And she spent her life making sure that happened. Ginsburg died on Sept. 18, 2020.