Friday, September 18, America suffered a great tragedy with the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, due to complications with pancreatic cancer. She was 87.
Up until her passing, Ruth Bader Ginsburg survived as a pioneer of women’s rights, staple within the Jewish Community, and a role model for men, women, and children alike. Now, we know her as the second woman appointed to justice of the Supreme Court and longest serving Jewish justice, but her life leading up to her tenure blazes a trail just as bright.
Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn, 1933, the second child of Celia and Nathan Bader. Celia Bader, a star student in high school until forced to drop out in order to send her brother to college, sought to provide her daughter with the education she was never granted. Throughout her early years, Ginsburg rose to the top of her class and was named valedictorian in both her eighth-grade and senior year. In a sharp twist, however, her mother succumbed to cancer the day before her graduation. “I pray that I may be all that she would have been,” Ginsburg said in her Supreme Court acceptance speech, “had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve and daughters are cherished as much as sons.”
Following her high school graduation, Ginsburg attended Cornell on scholarship, graduating as the highest-ranking woman and earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in government. While studying there, she also met her future husband of 56 years, Martin D. Ginsburg. The two would marry in 1954, but it was no typical 1950s marriage – instead, they operated as a partnership, with Martin often cooking to give Ruth time for her studies. Later, both enrolled at Harvard Law School in 1956. Ginsburg, having recently given birth to a baby girl, entered a class of over 550 men in which she was only one of nine women. The dean of Harvard at the time, Erwin Griswold, reportedly invited all of the female students to dinner at his home, during which he asked the group, “Why are you at Harvard Law School, taking the place of a man?”
Unfortunately whilst studying at Harvard, Martin was diagnosed with cancer. Ginsburg then became his primary caretaker in both health and education, as she began receiving notes in his classes and writing essays as he dictated them, all while taking care of their daughter and excelling in her own classes. Often running on three hours of sleep, Ginsburg still remained at the top of her class. Once he recovered, the pair moved to New York for Martin’s work, causing Ginsburg to transfer from Harvard to Columbia Law School. She hence became the first woman to be on two major law reviews: the Harvard Law Review and Columbia Law Review. In 1959, Ginsburg graduated with a law degree from Columbia University, tying for first in her year.
Despite her many achievements at only 27, Ginsburg struggled to find a job out of school. Out of the twelve firms she interviewed with, only two offered her a follow-up interview, and one even outright rejected her by saying that they “weren’t ready for a woman yet.” Nevertheless, she clerked for two years with District Judge Edmund L. Palmieri, then moved on to teach at Rutgers University Law School, and eventually became Columbia’s first female tenured professor. During the 1970s, she founded the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU’s) Women’s Rights Project, arguing six major Supreme Court cases in regards to gender equality. Her first brief with the Supreme Court, Reed v. Reed, resulted in the strike of a state law on the grounds that it discriminated against women “in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.” In 1974, she brought about the Equal Credit Opportunity Act allowing women access to credit cards and mortgages without a male co-signer. Although her work centered around the rights of women, Ginsburg also took several cases on behalf of male clients, one of the most famous concerning the Social Security Act’s favor of widows over widowers when granting certain benefits. Overall, Ginsburg sought to expose and amend the ingrained sexism that pervaded, or pervades, America’s judicial system, in order to “open all doors, for men and women.”
Appointed to by Jimmy Carter as a Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1980, and then to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, Ginsburg continued to make monumental moves for the advancements of women, LGTBTQ+ rights, and the rights of workers. She served as a voice for the moderate-liberal bloc, often favoring caution and moderation when dealing with the country’s largest issues. One of her biggest movements, the 1996 United States v. Virginia case, ruled it unconstitutional for federally funded schools to bar women. In 2007, Ginsburg’s dissent in the case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. made a grand influence on the path towards equal pay. She worked towards equal treatment during pregnancy, jury duty, and ensured that America knew, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. … It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”
On her death bed, having survived five bouts of cancer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg made one request: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” she said to her granddaughter, Clara Spera. Yet on September 26, President Donald Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to take the coveted Supreme Court seat. This marks the shortest period of time between a Supreme Court nomination and a presidential election in American history, with only 38 days to November 3rd. How shall we honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s memory?