Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Woman, Judge, Inspiration
“I surely would not be in this room today without the determined efforts of men and women who kept dreams of equal citizenship alive in days when few would listen. People like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Harriet Tubman come to mind. I stand on the shoulders of those brave people.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993 during the U.S. Supreme Court nomination hearings.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become an icon, a symbol of the very best of feminism respected by both sides of the aisle. Though she has passed on, her legacy will remain.
Determined From The Start
Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Joan Ruth Bader faced many challenges in her young life. She lost a sister in childhood and her mother in adolescence. Still, she went on to get her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University. At Cornell, she met Martin Ginsburg. “He was the only young man I dated who cared that I had a brain,” she said. They married, and she and her husband enrolled at Harvard Law School, where she was one of few women. While at Harvard, her husband battled cancer. She attended both her own and his lectures, taking notes for him so that he wouldn’t fall behind while recovering. She then transferred to Columbia Law School, and was one of only twelve women in her class. Yet, she succeeded in graduating tied for first in her entire class.
Despite her accomplishments, she was not offered a position at any of the law firms she applied to after graduating. She was a young, Jewish woman, and mother at a time in history where it was legal and common practice for firms to discriminate against her because of those qualities. This prompted her to take a position teaching law at Rutgers University, where she taught law for seventeen years. In the face of all these obstacles, it was during her time as a Rutgers professor that she orchestrated the biggest national win for gender equality since 1920: getting the Supreme Court to rule that discriminating based on sex was unconstitutional.
A Champion of Justice
Bader Ginsburg became the co-founder and coordinator of the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union in 1972. This initiative dedicated to gender discrimination litigation. She oversaw over 300 sex discrimination cases on the ACLU’s women’s rights docket and won five more cases before the Supreme Court. Bader Ginsburg was the principal author of the brief on the landmark Reed v. Reed Supreme Court ruling, which decided that it was unconstitutional to determine estate administrators based on sex. She fought again and again to create precedents that sexual discrimination was in fact unconstitutional.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where she served until her appointment to the Supreme Court in 1993. While on the Court, she gained popularity and fame for dissenting when she saw fit in the court room. But she also maintained friendships with those she didn’t always agree with, like Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who shared her interest in opera. Bader Ginsburg served as a Supreme Court Justice for 27 years until passing away at age 87 in her home in Washington, D.C. on September 18, 2020, from pancreatic cancer.
Chief Justice John Roberts has said, “Today we mourn but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her, a tireless and resolute champion of justice.”