Washington D.C. – The Honorable Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the second woman appointed to the U.S Supreme Court. Her landmark judgments and powerful dissenting-opinions made her an icon. Justice Ginsburg, a pioneer of women’s rights, passed away at the age of 87 from metastatic pancreatic cancer. She did not retire until just before her death, saying she would continue to work “as long as I can do the job full steam.”
Who Was Ruth Bader Ginsburg?
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the daughter of Nathan Bader and Celia Amster. She was born on March 15, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York. Her older sibling died when Justice Ginsburg was 14 months old.
Ginsburg obtained her college degree from Cornell on a full scholarship. It was here that she met her husband, Martin Ginsburg. Justice Ginsburg once said that “he was the only boy I ever met who cared that I had a brain.”
Martin Ginsburg was a successful tax lawyer. He was also his wife’s biggest career booster. In 1980, Martin Ginsburg gave up his practice in New York to move to Washington with his wife when she was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Thirteen years later, he also actively lobbied for her appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. They had two children from the marriage.
Justice Ginsburg was one of only nine women in her Harvard Law School class of 552 students. She was an outstanding student and an excellent law review editor who later transferred to Columbia University in her final year of law school.
After Ginsburg’s graduation from Columbia, she experienced job discrimination first hand. Despite her outstanding academic background, Ginsburg did not receive any job offers from law firms because she was a woman. She eventually spent two years clerking for a federal district judge who agreed to hire Ginsburg only when her mentor, Prof. Gerald Gunther, threatened to never send him another law clerk. In 1993, President Bill Clinton announced Ginsburg’s nomination as only the second woman to sit on the Supreme Court, succeeding Justice Byron R. White.
Justice Ginsburg faced many challenges during her time on the bench. She mentioned that “the image to the public entering the courtroom was eight men, of a certain size, and then this little woman sitting to the side. That was not a good image for the public to see.” Eventually, two other women, Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 and Elena Kagan, in 2010 joined Justice Ginsburg. At this time, the line “ You Can’t Spell Truth Without Ruth,” became a popular slogan.
Ivy League schools including her alma mater, Columbia, did not hire Ginsburg. Eventually Rutgers School of Law hired her, making Ginsburg the school’s second female faculty member. Ms. Ginsberg also volunteered at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) during this time. The ACLU’s national legal director started sending more cases her way after hearing about her outstanding work performance.
In 1972, Ginsburg became the ACLU’s first woman director, creating a women’s rights project. She was called the “Thurgood Marshall of Women’s Rights” because of her strategy and choice of cases. Ginsberg worked hard to persuade the then all-male Supreme Court to recognize the constitutional barriers against gender discrimination.
Noteworthy Work As An Attorney
Ginsburg’s main goal as a lawyer was to take cases focusing on the 14th Amendment which guaranteed equal protection applied to both racial and gender discrimination. She worked to rectify laws that were ostensibly for the protection of women, but in reality, were a reflection of stereotypes based on gender capabilities.
Attorney Ginsburg’s first landmark Supreme Court victory was Reed v. Reed, 1971. In this case, she challenged the Idaho law which gave men, rather than women, the preference to administer estates.
Frontiero v. Richardson, 1973 was another iconic case where Ginsburg challenged a military regulation that denied the husbands of women in the military the same benefits as those received by the wives of male soldiers. Similarly, she also challenged a Social Security provision that asserted wives as secondary breadwinners in another lawsuit.
Attorney Ginsburg always argued the rule of strict scrutiny, which is the highest standard of review that a court has to use to further a compelling governmental interest. The applicability of this rule under the 14th amendment was initially limited to racial equality. However, with Ginsburg’s relentless effort, Supreme Court justices eventually came to the conclusion that the 14th amendment did guarantee equal protection to all sexes.
As an attorney, Ginsburg also produced a leading treatise on Swedish civil law. In fact, she learned the Swedish language so she could effectively communicate with her male, Swedish co-author. Throughout her career, Justice Ginsburg wrote many scholarly books on the law.
Landmark Judgments as Honorable Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
The United States v. Virginia was a landmark judgment by Justice Ginsburg. This was a discrimination case involving the Virginia Military Institute. In this case, the court found that the all-male admissions policy of a state-funded military institution was unconstitutional. It was held that the Constitution required treating men and women equally.
In Sessions v. Morales-Santana, Justice Ginsburg opined that “the sex-based distinction was stunningly anachronistic.” In M.L.B v. S.L.J, where the question was whether termination of parental rights could be appealed, the Supreme Court justice ordered that “the State may not bolt the door to equal justice.”
Justice Ginsburg’s powerful dissenting opinions confirm that she was moderate rather than extremely liberal. The justice claimed that in a healthy, democratic environment; the judiciary should work in partnership with the other branches of government.
On that basis, Justice Ginsburg criticized the 1973 judgement establishing a constitutional right to abortion in Roe v. Wade. However, she supported abortion rights, saying that the Court would have done much better by issuing a narrow, rather than sweeping, judgment. Justice Ginsburg announced approximately 200 majority opinions during her tenure.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once wrote that she was fortunate to be alive and working as a lawyer. It was said that she was shy and yet that shyness disappeared when she had a job to do. Justice Ginsburg will be greatly missed by the legal community as well as by all Americans. May her soul rest in peace forever.
- “Opinion | Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Advice for Living”
- “The Story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Biography Book for New Readers.”