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*Co-written by Haley Jackson and Ivy Lam
The Life and Legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
On Friday, Sept. 18, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died of complications from pancreatic cancer in Washington, D.C. Ginsburg was 87-years-old at the time of her passing.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, commonly referred to as the “Notorious RBG,” served as a Supreme Court Justice for 27 years. Appointed by former president Bill Clinton, RBG was a trailblazer for women’s rights.
Joan Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born on March 15, 1933 in Brooklyn, New York to parents Nathan and Celia Bader. Ginsburg’s mother, who graduated high school at fifteen, valued education and therefore played a very active role in Ginsburg’s early schooling. Celia Bader also faced a gruesome battle with cancer while Ginsburg was still in high school. She passed one day before Ruth’s high school graduation.
Upon graduating from high school, Ruth Bader attended Cornell University in New York, where she later met Martin D. Ginsburg, her future spouse, and joined the Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority. While attending Cornell University, Bader was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, a highly prestigious and selective academic honors society. Ginsburg received her Bachelors of Arts degree in government.
After dating for the majority of their college years, Bader and Ginsburg got married a month after graduating. The Ginsburg’s relocated from Ithaca, New York to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, as Martin Ginsburg was an active duty training officer in the U.S. Army Reserves.
While living in Oklahoma, RBG worked at the Social Security Administration, but was later demoted once she got pregnant with her daughter Jane C. Ginsburg, who she gave birth to in 1955.
Her journey in law school
Ruth Bader Ginsburg began law school at Harvard Law School in 1956. As a student at Harvard Law, Ginsburg was one of only nine women in her class, which contained around 500 men. While attending Harvard Law School, Ginsburg was a part of the Harvard Law Review, a journal run by the law school’s student body.
Once Ginsburg’s husband received a job in New York City, Ginsburg transferred to Columbia Law School, where she would later join Columbia Law Review, a student-run journal which incorporates student notes and articles. Ginsburg was the first woman to ever be on two major law reviews.
She graduated from Columbia Law School in 1959 and was tied for first place in her class.
Work after law school
After graduating from law school, Ginsburg found it difficult to get a job; many law firms did not hire women during that time. Ginsburg applied for a law clerk position for former Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, but was rejected as she was a woman.
Gerald Gunther, a former Columbia Law School Constitutional law professor at Columbia Law School often recommended Columbia Law students to Edmund L. Palmieri, a U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York judge. Once learning of Ginsburg’s struggle to find a job, Gunther encouraged judge Palmieri to hire Ginsburg as a clerk. Gunther told Palmireri he would never suggest another Columbia student to become clerk unless Ginsburg was given the job. Ginsburg was chosen to clerk for Judge Palmieri, where she worked for two years.
Ginsburg served as a research associate and then a director associate for the Columbia Law School Project from 1961 to 1963 studying International Procedure. While working on the project, Ginsburg co-authored a book on civil procedures in Sweden with Anders Bruzelius. To conduct research for the book, Ginsburg learned Swedish and studied at Lund University in Scania, Sweden.
Many of Ginsburg’s opinions on gender equality are credited to her time in Sweden after observing the active role women played in the Swedish society. For example, her position in the court case of Reed v. Reed (1971) reflects that equal protection of both genders should not offer men high preference over women.
Ginsburg prior to becoming a judge
Later in 1963, Ginsburg became a professor at Rutgers Law School in New Jersey, where she was a professor until 1972. When Ginsburg began teaching at Rutgers, she was one of less than 20 other female professors around the country. While Ginsburg was happy to work, it was outlined that Ginsburg would receive lower pay than her male colleagues since she was married to a man with a well-paying job.
During her time working at Rutgers Law School, Ginsburg co-founded the first ever law journal that focused solely on women’s rights, the Women’s Rights Law Reporter. The Women’s Rights Law Reporter was co-founded by several law students and Ginsburg.
In 1972, Ginsburg became the first tenured female professor at Columbia Law School, where she taught until 1980. When a professor receives tenure from a school, they hold a position which allows for them to lose their role only if extraordinary circumstances come about.
Ginsburg was also a co-founder of a Women’s Rights project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1972 and became the project’s general counselor in 1973.
As a professor for Columbia, Ginsburg co-authored a casebook on sex discrimination. In addition to teaching, Ginsburg also spent a year at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences as a fellow. A fellow on a study often works with administration or professors to aid in research and minor teaching roles.
While serving as the director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, Ginsburg argued a total of six cases before the Supreme Court of the United States. Of the six gender discrimination cases, Ginsburg won five.
Ginsburg had a very targeted strategy for picking which cases she would take. Instead of pushing for gender discrimination to end as a whole, she represented certain cases that could eliminate specific laws. Ginsburg even took cases regarding gender discrimination of men to show there was discrimination among all genders.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a judge
After the death of Harold Leventhal, the former judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Ginsburg was nominated for the vacant seat. Nominated by former president Jimmy Carter on Apr 14, 1980, Ginsburg was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on June 18, 1980.
While serving as a D.C. Circuit Court Judge, Ginsburg became close with Judge Antonin Scalia who shared many of the same beliefs with her. Scalia would later become a Supreme Court Justice.
After serving as a Circuit judge for 13 years, Ginsburg was nominated for a seat on the Supreme Court by former president Bill Clinton on June 14, 1993. Ginsburg made history as the first Jewish female Supreme Court Justice.
At the time of her nomination, many people perceived Ginsburg as a moderate judge because of her conservative-leaning views on religious freedom and free speech, as well as her uber-progressive views on civil rights. Ginsburg’s moderate views were believed to be able to unite a divided court.
During her confirmation hearing with the Senate Judiciary committee, Ginsburg sometimes refused to voice her views on certain issues as she felt it was possible she would have to vote on it if it came before the Supreme Court. Ginsburg’s decision to refrain from discussing certain topics led to the creation of “Ginsburg’s Precedent,” a phrase often used by senators. With a vote of 96-3 from the U.S. Senate, Ginsburg was confirmed on Aug. 3, 1993.
In 2006, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor retired from her position on the court, resulting in Ginsburg being the only woman on the court. Around this time, Ginsburg was also left as the senior member of the “liberal wing” of the bench. With this role, she often chose who wrote the dissenting opinion. A dissenting opinion is a legal report written in hopes of expressing disagreement with the majority opinion. In every Supreme Court Case with a split ruling, a dissent is written.
Ginsburg is often admired for some of her dissent and majority opinions. One of Ginsburg’s popular opinions is from a gender discrimination case, United States v. Virginia (1996). In this opinion, Ginsburg argues that a male-only policy at Virginia Military Institute is a violation to the 14th Amendment.
Ginsburg battles with cancer
Throughout her life, Ginsburg was diagnosed with cancer five times, with the first time being in 1999. She was diagnosed with colon cancer, resulting in the need to undergo surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Despite battling colon cancer, Ginsburg never missed a day on the bench.
After beating colon cancer, Ginsburg began working with personal trainer Bryant Johnson to regain strength. Johnson trained Ginsburg in a private Justice-only gym at the Supreme Court.
In early Feb. 2009, Ginsburg underwent surgery to remove a tumor after doctors discovered pancreatic cancer in its early stages. Near the end of the month, Ginsburg returned to the Court.
After a fall in her office at the Supreme Court left Ginsburg with three fractured ribs, a CT scan of her lungs revealed Ginsburg had cancerous cells in her left lung. Doctors later removed the nodules by performing a left-lung lobectomy. Ginsburg’s surgery caused her to miss an oral argument before the court on Jan. 7, 2019, which was the first time Ginsburg ever missed an oral argument argued in front of the court.
A few months later, Ginsburg underwent three weeks of radiation to remove a tumor in her pancreas, allowing Ginsburg to be deemed cancer-free in Jan. 2020. Although not released to the public, Ginsburg’s cancer did return only a month later in Feb. 2020. She battled pancreatic cancer up until her death on Sept. 18, 2020.
During the presidency of Barack Obama, many people called for Ginsburg to retire, which would allow President Obama to appoint a successor with similar views. Many people believed Ginsburg's health history made her position on the court uncertain and felt that since Democrats held the majority in the Senate, it would be easy to appoint a new Justice. Ginsburg declared that she would stay a justice as long as she was “mentally sharp enough to perform her duties.”
The aftermath of Ginsburg’s passing
Ginsburg’s death came at an unexpected time in American history. Shortly before her passing, Ginsburg had a conversation with her granddaughter, “my most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” With the 2020 presidential election in less than five weeks, the replacement of Justice Ginsburg has become a very political issue among Democrats and Republicans.
On Sept. 26th, President Donald Trump nominated U.S. Court of Appeals judge, Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacant Supreme Court Seat. Since her nomination, Amy Coney Barrett’s views on abortion have become the main topic of conversation. Being that Barrett is a strict Catholic, many Democrats fear Barrett would aid in overturning Roe v. Wade. The court case Roe v. Wade (1973) ruled that a pregnant women’s choice to have an abortion without excessive governemnt limitations was legal and covered by the U.S. constitution.
After Ginsburg’s death, ActBlue, a fundraising software that supports democratic candidates and left-leaning non-profits, raised over $100 million dollars within 24 hours. The donations will be invested to a range of candidates on upcoming ballots as well as helping many organizations fight against the appointment of a new Supreme Court Judge until after the 2020 presidential election in November.
Ginsburg was the first Jewish woman to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol. Ginsburg is often considered one of the most impactful women’s rights advocates. Throughout her career, Ginsburg’s main goal was to not only make advances for herself, but to also make sure that women after her had the same opportunities.
Not only has RBG impacted the United States as a whole, she has changed the lives of students and staff from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Click below to read about how RBG affected four individuals from MSD.