Who Was Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg poster
Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

A Progressive Icon

On September 18th, 2020, the world said goodbye to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a progressive icon that forever left a mark on American history. 

She passed away at 87 due to pancreatic cancer and was mainly known for her work on the United States Supreme Court. 

Ginsburg served as a Supreme Court justice for almost three decades and thus was a fixed feature in the highest court in the United States. 

 

Supreme Court building
Ruth Bader Ginsburg served on the Supreme Court for 27 years.

Besides that, Ginsburg was also very influential through her advocacy for equal rights and especially strived for a better position for diverse groups of minorities. This was reflected in her personal beliefs, professional commitments, and achievements. 

Here, the different life stages of Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be explored.

Background

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born Joan Ruth Bader on March 15th, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York.

Youth

Ginsburg came from a true workers’ family. Her parents, Nathan and Celia Amster Bader, were Russian-Jewish immigrants who came to the United States for a better life. Her father was a capable and relatively successful furrier. 

Both Ruth’s mother and sister died when she was still young. Her mother passed due to cancer, while her sister died of meningitis. 

Studies

From a very young age, Ginsburg’s mother, Celia, encouraged her daughter to strive for excellence in her academic career to get a scholarship, which is precisely what Ginsburg did. 

At James Madison High School, she was top of her class and later graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree. There, she met the man that would later become her husband, Martin D Ginsburg.

Harvard University
Ruth Ginsburg attended Harvard Law School.

 

After the couple had married, they decided to attend Harvard University together. Ruth studied law but faced a barrage of negative comments from her peers and professors. 

Ginsburg’s class consisted of only nine women compared to hundreds of men, which came along with many hardships. 

Nevertheless, she kept thriving at Harvard Law School and was hired to write for the prestigious Harvard Law Review. The first woman to do so. 

Ginsburg followed her husband to New York as he pursued his career, which meant that she could not finish her Harvard Law School studies. Instead, she applied to Columbia University and completed her law degree there. She graduated at the top of her class. 

Professional Struggles

After graduating from Columbia University, Ginsburg dreamed of becoming a successful lawyer in New York. Even though she graduated at the top of her class, she endured a lot of difficulty achieving this because of her gender. 

Columbia University
Ginsburg finished top of her class at Columbia University.

Indeed, no law firm wanted to hire her. Her Jewish heritage and the fact that she was already a mother also played a part in this. 

Notwithstanding the gender-related obstacles, Ginsburg became a self-employed lawyer and was even able to win a number of cases before the Supreme Court. For instance, she won five cases on women’s rights. 

Professional success

Ultimately, she decided to begin a career as a law clerk for a judge in a New York court in 1959. In 1963, she got a position to teach at Rutgers University. Yet, she again faced gender-related discrimination and was paid significantly less than her male colleagues as a result. 

Later, she began teaching at Columbia Law School as well, and there, she was the first woman ever to receive a tenured position. She stayed there until 1980.

Supreme Court Career

In 1993, Democratic President Bill Clinton nominated Ginsburg as an associate justice on the United States Supreme Court. Since Supreme Court justices are appointed for life, she remained in this position until the day that she died. 

Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the United States Supreme Court.

Consequently, her Supreme Court career lasted an astonishing 27 years. Back when she was appointed, Ginsburg was only the second female Supreme Court justice, following in the footsteps of Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. 

President Clinton nominated Ginsburg as he thought she would provide some counterweight to the other Supreme Court judges, predominantly conservative. Clinton also praised Ginsburg’s intellect and political and diplomatic skills. 

During her career at the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg made a name for herself. She often brought entire epistles to demonstrate her views and was especially renowned for her elaborate dissenting opinions

Her Feministic Beliefs

Ginsburg regularly advocated for many minorities’ rights, ranging from migrant rights to civil rights for everyone. Yet, she was incredibly vocal regarding gender discrimination. 

From the 1970s, Ruth Bader Ginsburg increasingly committed herself to the battle for gender equality. For instance, she joined the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and became the Women’s Rights Project president.

Feminist
Ruth Ginsburg was a vocal feminist.

During her work for the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg was also particularly opinionated about gender inequality and sexual and reproductive freedom cases. 

A concrete example in this regard is the entire discussion regarding abortion. On more than one occasion, Ginsburg stressed that the United States Constitution was blind to gender and thus facilitated the freedom gap between men and women. 

Movie fame

There was even a film made called “On the Basis of Sex” to demonstrate her relentless commitment to gender equality.

Hollywood sign
The film ‘On the Basis of Sex’ was a film on the life and early cases of Ginsburg.

 

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg could be described as a liberal feminist and was one of the pioneers associated with the equal treatment feminist theory. This theory goes hand in hand with equal treatment for the law of both men and women. 

Consequently, Ruth Ginsburg was especially dedicated to eliminating laws that were intrinsically discriminating against either men or women. 

The Notorious R.B.G. 

For her progressive opinions in the Supreme Court and her advocacy work for many minority groups, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg received the nickname “The Notorious R.B.G.”

Notorious R.B.G sign
Ginsburg earned the nickname Notorious R.B.G.

Less abstractly, this nickname stood for the fact that while Ruth Ginsburg was a relatively small woman, she had an immensely large personality. 

The nickname is made up of Ginsburg’s initials and is a clear reference to a famous rapper in the 90s, named “The Notorious B.I.G.”

In short, Justice Ginsburg had both proponents and opponents, but her influence on the American justice system cannot be denied.

Several women have followed in her footsteps in the United States court of last resort, including Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

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