Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. March 15th, 1933- September 18th, 2020

Namita Nair

Staff Writer

     On September 18th, 2020, America lost one of its most iconic women and powerful Justices. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, born Joan Ruth Bader, nicknamed “Notorious RBG,” died after defeating cancer four times, but eventually passed away peacefully of metastatic pancreatic cancer, surrounded by family at her home in Washington D.C. at the age of 87. 

     Justice Ginsburg was a feminist icon, a fair Justice, a champion of freedom and justice for all, as well as a mother, wife, grandmother, and activist.

     Born to Celia and Nathan Bader, working class factory workers, Justice Ginsburg grew up knowing the value of working hard and giving back. Her mother worked in a garment factory to pay for her uncle’s college tuition. This selfless act made quite an impression on young RBG, and may have inspired her to devote her life to helping others. Shortly before she graduated high school, RBG’s mother died. She was an influential figure in RBG’s life, and the Justice has been quoted saying she wished her mother was there to witness her graduation.

     RBG went to Cornell University Law School, where she met and fell in love with fellow law student Martin Ginsburg. She graduated in 1954 as valedictorian, and not much later, she married Ginsburg. They had their first daughter that same year, and Martin Ginsburg was drafted to serve in the Army. RBG now had to juggle motherhood, the absence of her partner, and being a law student. When her husband came back, both of them enrolled in Harvard Law School, where RBG graduated top of her class, and became the first female member of Harvard Law Review. In Harvard, she had to endure sexism from classmates as well as the dean himself, who was against women taking the place of “qualified males”.

      Despite this RBG persevered.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg in New York, when she was appointed as a professor at Columbia University
Citation: Librado Romero—The New York Times/Redux

She attended Colombia and graduated, once again, at the top of her class. When she graduated, she found it hard to find a job, because as a woman, the field of law considered her beneath her male counterparts. Despite being the best of the best, the circumstances of her gender created issues, birthing her fire for fighting for gender equality.

     She eventually went on to clerk for US District Judge Edmund L. Palmieri (1959-1961), taught at Rutgers University Law School (1963-1972), and Columbia (1972-1980), where she became the first female tenured professor.

     She went on to become director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, where she argued for 6 landmark cases on gender equality before the Supreme Court.

     She won 5 of the 6 cases.

     In her own words, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

     In 1980, President Carter appointed her to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In 1993, President Clinton appointed RBG to the Supreme Court to replace Justice Byron White and balance out the conservative judges on the court. She was confirmed 96 to 3 as the second female justice to serve. 

August 10, 1993 Photograph by the White House, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is sworn in as an Associate Justice. From left to right stand President Bill Clinton, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Martin Ginsburg (Justice Ginsburg’s husband), and Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

RBG being sworn into the Supreme Court on August 10th, 1993.

Citation: Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

     Most recently, she became a feminist icon with the release of RBG, a biopic about Justice Ginsburg, and the release of her book, My Own Words

     Her legacy on and off the Supreme Court is monumental, and her rulings and fights for justice have shaped modern American law into what we live under today. Without her pointed dissenting of many rulings (for which she is known), many of us would not have the rights and freedoms we have today.

Here are a few of her most influential rulings and acts of activism:

1996 United States v. Virginia state-supported military could not refuse to admit women (state-funded schools must admit women) “A gender line… helps to keep women not on a pedestal, but in a cage.”As a part of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, RBG helped pass the Pregnancy Discrimination Act which stated that employees cannot discriminate against employees based on gender or reproductive choices “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When the government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a full adult human responsible for her own choices.” – Senate confirmation hearingAmended the Equal Protection Clause of US Constitution and Section 214 of IRS so that men have the same caregiving and Social security rights as womenFought to require women on juries.“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.” USA Today in 2009June 25th 2010 King v. Burwell Affordable Care Act- allowed federal government to continue providing subsidies to Americans who purchase healthcare through “exchanges,” regardless of whether they are state or federal operations (made Affordable Care Act difficult to repeal)June 26th 2010 Obergefell v. Hodges same-sex marriage is made legal in all 50 states. Ginsburg officiated many same-sex marriages and had shown public support for them. She dissented against challenging arguments of the case early in the proceedings.Paved the way for Equal Credit Opportunity Act- allowed women to apply for bank accounts, credit cards, and mortgages without male co-signer “Feminism [is the] notion that we should each be free to develop our own talents and not be held back by man made barriers.” – My Own Words RBG book 2016April 2018 Sessions v, Dimaya – assigned majority opinion for the first time in her 25 years – stuck down a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act that allowed the deportation of any foreign national convicted of a “crime of violence”

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