When Ruth Bader Ginsburg entered law school, and later legal practice, she faced three major hurdles. The first was that she was a woman. In those days, women who attended law school or chose to pursue certain majors were accused of taking the spots of suitable men. When she started at Harvard Law, she was one of nine women in a class of roughly 500. Ginsburg had been denied positions due to her gender.
The second was that she was a mother. Childcare options were few for working mothers in the 50s and 60s, and women were expected to be stay-at-home mothers. No practice would hire a woman, for they worried that her focus would not be on her job – they did not think that for fathers. The third was anti-Semitism. Still sadly common today, it was a major hurdle for Jewish professionals back in the day.
Somehow, she shattered all those obstacles to become a member of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Ginsburg was born in 1933 to a Jewish family in Brooklyn. Her mother had encouraged her education, for Celia Bader’s parents had chosen her brother’s education over her own. After graduating with a BA in Government from the Ivy League Cornell, Ginsburg took a government job. She was demoted after becoming pregnant. Not long later, Ginsburg followed her husband to the prestigious Harvard Law. As her husband battled cancer, she attended all of his classes as well as her own, all whilst caring for their infant daughter. She later transferred to Columbia.
Following law school, several years as a clerk, professor and ACLU lawyer. Ginsburg focused on gender discrimination against the law, highlighting bias against both men and women in legislation. In 1980, Ginsburg was appointed to the DC Appeals Circuit by President Jimmy Carter.
Supreme Court Justice
In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated Ginsburg as the second female Supreme Court Justice; she was confirmed 96-3. Though viewed as a moderate before, her Supreme Court tenure saw her become the leader of the liberal wing. Known for her fiery dissents, she was notable for decisions such as Ledbetter v Goodyear (2007), Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt (2016), and Safford Unified School District v. Redding (2009).
Despite their very different views, Ginsburg was a very close friend of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. The families had dinner together every New Year’s Eve, whilst Scalia and Ginsburg attended the opera several times.
Tenure and Legacy
It is hard to understate the impact RBG has had on the United States. Politically, as all justices are, she was divisive. Still, we must note her advocacy for gender equality and the fact it did include men as well as women. When RBG entered law school, women had fewer rights than today. Women could not open a bank account without their husband’s permission, marital rape was legal, and they could be discriminated against in employment. The idea of a female lawyer was beyond the imagination of many. Having a woman in the Supreme Court? Inconceivable.
It is because of Ginsburg and her allies that there is a choice for women. We can be lawyers or stay-at-home mothers – we don’t get penalised for either. Men can be carers and receive widower benefits. Her friendship with conservative justices shows that politics should not impact the friends we share. Ginsburg was an icon to many, a political figure whose death brought together those on the opposite sides.
When Donald Trump and Barack Obama can both share a beautiful tribute about the same person, we know they made a mark. Ginsburg will now join her later husband, the ever-supportive, Martin in peace. The pair were married for 56 years until his passing a decade ago. She is survived by her daughter Jane, a law professor, and her son James, a record producer, as well as four grandchildren.
The temptation to make it political is too hard to resist for many, but we should ignore that urge. People on the left wanted her to live forever, whilst those on the right wanted a new conservative judge. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was not a political prop. She was a judge, lawyer, fierce advocate, mother, wife, and grandmother.
Rest in peace, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (March 15, 1933-September 18, 2020).