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Ruth Bader Ginsburg remembered at candlelit vigils around the region

Laura Barr, of Jamaica Plain, held up a sign remembering late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg outside the West Roxbury division of the Boston Municipal Court.
Laura Barr, of Jamaica Plain, held up a sign remembering late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg outside the West Roxbury division of the Boston Municipal Court.Jeremy C. Fox for the Boston Globe

Electronic candles formed the initials “RBG” on the steps outside the West Roxbury Division of the Boston Municipal Court on Saturday night, as residents gathered for a vigil honoring a widely admired Supreme Court justice and promising to continue her fight for equal rights under the law.

“Myself and my friends were all deeply distressed last night when we heard the news about Ruth Bader Ginsburg dying,” said Melissa Hamel, 59, of Jamaica Plain, who organized the grass-roots gathering of about 50. “We wanted to do something — Facebook just wasn’t enough.”

Mourners gathered Saturday at courthouses across the state and around the country for community vigils paying tribute to Ginsburg, who died of metastatic pancreatic cancer Friday at her Washington, D.C., home.

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Ginsburg had survived four previous bouts of cancer, beginning in 1999. She announced in July that she had a recurrence of the disease but said at the time she was “fully able” to continue serving on the high court.

Hamel said that women, especially, “are petrified about what this new court could look like.” Women’s rights, same-sex marriage, and voting rights are all at risk if President Trump appoints a conservative jurist to take Ginsburg’s seat on the court, she said.

After Ginsburg’s death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, released a statement saying the Senate would vote on a Supreme Court nominee before the Nov. 3 election. Trump pushed for a confirmation “without delay” and said he would likely announce a nominee in the next week.

When conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died nearly eight months before the 2016 presidential election, McConnell refused to hold a vote on then-president Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland.

Heidi Burbidge, 50, of Jamaica Plain, said it was “hypocritical” for McConnell to rush to fill Ginsburg’s seat.

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“There’s no sense of respect,” said Burbidge, who wore a necklace that recalled the distinctive “dissent collar” Ginsburg wore to signal her disagreement with a majority opinion of the court. “They’re just taking advantage and seizing any kind of opportunity to have power and to advance — what seems like to me — very nefarious intentions.”

Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, who announced Tuesday that she will run against Mayor Martin J. Walsh, told the crowd that Ginsburg’s death was “a reminder of … the incredible difference one person can make, the incredible example that we each can set, and yet what stakes are attached to that at this moment in our country.”

“For RBG, I’m going to fight,” Wu said. “I think we all need to fight, and we all need to just push ahead and do everything we can in this moment.”

An announcement that Ginsburg’s admirers would gather at courthouses around the country spread over social media Saturday: “National memorial for RBG. … May her memory be a revolution.” The message was accompanied by an image of a lace collar on a black background, in tribute to Ginsburg’s distinctive neckwear.

Organizers spoke at a candlelit vigil outside the the Essex Family & Probate Court in Salem.
Organizers spoke at a candlelit vigil outside the the Essex Family & Probate Court in Salem.Katherine McCabe/Kathy McCabe

In Salem, dozens stood in front of the Essex Family and Probate Court, whose granite pillars evoke the Supreme Court building’s portico of Corinthian columns.

“She’s done a lot for us,” said Sue Kirby, an organizer, speaking to the crowd that spilled from the sidewalk into Federal Street. “And the fact that she’s no longer on the Supreme Court is devastating. She was a fighter. She was a real fighter. We’ve got a fight on our hands here, in order to keep her legacy alive.”

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Kirby invited people to step forward and share their thoughts and feelings.

“Like all of you, I’m here to honor her,” said Lynne McCarren, 47, of Swampscott, who works in real estate. “And there’s a righteousness to her actions and so I want to stay in that spirit, but I have to say . . . I have to say, ‘This is a complete gut punch.’”

Still, she found strength in the gathering.

“I’m so heartened by all of you. Thank you for being here. We really needed someplace to be tonight, and not to be alone in despair,” she said.

Marjorie Wittner recalled meeting Ginsburg in 2016 during a ceremony for lawyers admitted to practice before the Supreme Court.

“She talked a little bit about Justice Brandeis because I went to Brandeis, and that’s the group I was with,” said Wittner, who lives in Salem.

Ginsburg was asked “What’s your favorite decision?” she recalled

“And she was very cute. She kind of lowered her eyes and said, ‘Oh, that’s kind of like asking who your favorite grandchild is. But I do have a few favorite dissents.’ She really got a smile on her face.”

Megan Donoghue of Salem stood with her seven-year-old daughter, Jojo, and read from “I Dissent,” a children’s book about Ginsburg’s life. “I dissent,” Donoghue said in a high-pitched voice, drawing laughter.

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Later, Donoghue said she had read the book just that day to Jojo, who is in second grade.

“She knows a lot about voting, but not so much about courts,” Donoghue, 39, said in an interview. "So we talked about courts are and why we have them in different branches of government.'

Like others, Donoghue said she is concerned about who will replace Ginsburg.

“Part of my being here is because I’m worried for my child and her future. I’m worried for my future and the future for many, many people who are suffering right now, even though its 2020.”

In Ayer, about 60 people gathered outside the District Court to light candles and remember Ginsburg, according to the Democratic Town Committee.

In Littleton, the First Church Unitarian opted for a virtual vigil as a precaution against the coronavirus.

Approximately 30 people logged on to pay their respects to Ginsburg, led by the Rev. Lara Hoke, who said the feelings surrounding the jurist’s death and the future are complex.

“Let the light from this candle, and other candles being lit, represent the wonderful light that Ruth Bader Ginsburg brought into this country and into this world,” Hoke said while joining others in lighting any candle that was handy. “She is, indeed, a blessing to us.”

Following a recording of the church choir’s performance of “Let It Be,” their last recorded performance before the COVID-19 pandemic, Hoke encouraged the audience to “help one another be resilient.”

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“May we indeed carry on the good fight and make RBG proud,” she said.

Grieving community members paid tribute to the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg outside the West Roxbury division of the Boston Municipal Court on Saturday night.
Grieving community members paid tribute to the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg outside the West Roxbury division of the Boston Municipal Court on Saturday night.Jeremy C. Fox for the Boston Globe

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox. Breanne Kovatch can be reached at breanne.kovatch@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @breannekovatch. Kathy McCabe can be reached at Katherine.McCabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.