In the realm of the legal world, Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg is Beyoncé: a trailblazing warrior who revolutionized her career for women—and she’s damn good at what she does. She has been a featured character on Saturday Night Live, has a cult following across the Internet with her own memes and merchandise and she just so happens to be a Supreme Court Justice. Today, she is known for her work in the highest court in the United States, but her impact and legacy spans far beyond the Supreme Court. In fact, many equate Ginsburg as the leader of the liberal voice not just in the court, but also in the nation.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg had very humble beginnings. Born in 1933 during the midst of the Great Depression, Ginsburg grew up in an era where women were expected to play the role of a traditional homemaker. Luckily for her, having her mother home more often than not contributed to her academic success and her ambition. It was because of the existence of a strong female presence, her drive and her unmatched intellect that she was able to graduate at the top of her class at James Madison High School. She not only excelled in school, but was also very effective in balancing many extracurricular activities; an ability that we see Ginsburg carry on later in her life. After high school, Ginsburg went to attend Cornell University where she excelled once again, placing first in her class. Upon graduation, Ginsburg (then Ruth Bader) married her college sweetheart, Martin “Marty” Ginsburg. After he fulfilled his military service, the Ginsburg’s brought their talents to Cambridge where they both attended Harvard Law School.
Journeying Into the Law
Ruth Bader Ginsburg met a great deal of adversity and obstacles during her time at Harvard Law. There, Ginsburg was juggling a demanding course load, raising her three-year-old daughter Jane, and taking care of her husband who was recently diagnosed with testicular cancer. On top of all that, Ginsburg was one of nine women enrolled in her law school class of over four hundred students. One cannot imagine the amount of scrutiny and side-eye young Ginsburg received during her time at Harvard Law. In fact, Ginsburg was often locked out of the Lamont Library (a humanities and social science library at Harvard that was restricted to women at the time), was not given invitations to the Harvard Law banquets and was not allowed to live at the Harvard Law dormitories. Perhaps the most shocking experience (and there seem to be many) that Ginsburg recounts from her time at Harvard Law was during a dinner where Dean Griswold of the Law School asked her how it felt to be occupying a seat at the law school that could have been allotted to a man. But through it all, Ginsburg proved herself worthy and capable enough to secure herself a seat on the coveted law review.
After spending two years at Harvard Law, Ginsburg soon relocated and matriculated to Columbia Law School in New York City, where her husband had found a job. Unfortunately, even after graduating at the top of her class at Columbia Law School, her battle was far from over. Time and time again, she faced obstacles in her journey to find employment. She was denied interviews because employers doubted the ability of a ‘woman to practice the law.’ Although she found a job upon graduating from law school, she soon learned that there was much more to be concerned about. When she taught at Rutgers Law School, she had to hide her pregnancy for fear of being terminated. She also found out that the female faculty at Rutgers weren't being paid as much as their male counterparts were. Along with a group of other women at Rutgers, Ginsburg participated in a class-action lawsuit that resulted in a settlement that brought significant pay increases for the faculty. Perhaps Ginsburg’s years of struggle contributed to her fight for gender equality, because we see her develop the fiery spark and her rancorous sass that she is known for once she left academia and entered the ‘real world.’
Fighting for What’s Right
By the 1970’s, Ginsburg’s reputation as a tenacious defender of equality had taken off. In 1972, she helped co-found the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, which put her at the forefront of the legal battle for sex-based equality. At Rutgers, Ginsburg taught various courses regarding sex-based discrimination and the law, a type of law that many attribute Ginsburg in shaping. In fact, she helped edit the first casebook regarding sex-based discrimination; a casebook she would later use as a companion to her class. While serving for the Women’s Rights Project, Ginsburg successfully argued and won five out of six sex-based discrimination cases before the Supreme Court. Her hard work finally paid off, because in 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated Ginsburg to fill a vacant seat on the Supreme Court.
In her typical pioneering spirit, Ginsburg was the second woman and first Jewish woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court. On the court, Ginsburg is known for her defense of justice, especially those issues of social justice. Her dissents bring as much sass and scathing criticism as one could bring onto the Supreme Court. In her 2007 decision of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., Ginsburg served such a devastating dissent that it prompted congress and President Obama to act. The case struck down a part of a civil rights law that protects workers from employment discrimination. Ginsburg’s dissent was so loud that congress and the newly elected President Obama heeded to her call. Two years following her dissent, President Obama passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, granting legal rights to victims of employment and wage discrimination. We see her fervid spirit reflected in various other decisions, such as her dissent in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby where she argued that the court’s reasoning for decoding to not have employers pay for insurance coverage for contraceptives could be perceived as ‘favoring one religion over another, the very risk the [Constitution’s] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.’ As long as Ginsburg stays on the court, we can all have faith that America has a vocal social justice warrior fighting on behalf of all of us.
Ginsburg: Beyond the Court
Ginsburg’s strengths stretch far beyond her legal prowess. She is an outspoken activist, fashionista, and workout fanatic. Just like Beyoncé, Ginsburg helped make the movement towards gender equality not just acceptable, but mainstream and not to mention—she also has a great sense of style. Just like any true fashion icon, Ginsburg is known for her unique signature pieces. She adorns all of her robes with decorative neck accessories called jabots, and sets out certain jabots for different occasions. Ginsburg appropriately adorns her robe with a dazzling studded black velvet jabot for her dissents and sports a dazzling gold-crochet collar whenever she delivers the majority opinion. And when she’s not on the court sitting pretty and delivering her rhetorically powerful decisions, Ginsburg can be found pumping iron and doing push-ups with her personal trainer. In fact, she completes an entire routine that includes a whole set of exercises the Canadian Air Force uses. Ginsburg’s intellectual and physical workout routine sure puts all of us non-octogenarians to shame.
I would be a great diva. But I totally lacked that talent so the next best thing is the law. - Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is known for being a fighter: a fighter for women’s rights, the average American and a fighter against the most vocal of her opponents. Unsurprisingly, she seems to have been fighting her entire life. When Ginsburg first considered going into law, men dominated the legal world. Women rarely attended law school, were barely considered for legal jobs and definitely would not even dream of occupying a spot on the Supreme Court. And yet, Ginsburg has done it all. She may be best known as ‘that Supreme Court justice’ seen on witty shirts or Internet memes, but she deserves much more credit than that. She is the voice of dissonance in a conservative led court, a pioneer and a brilliant (and often hilarious) mind. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, when prompted with questions regarding her ideal career responded by saying ‘I would be a great diva. But I totally lacked that talent so the next best thing is the law.’ However, in my mind, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the greatest diva of our century.
"A Brief Biography of Justice Ginsburg." A Brief Biography of Justice Ginsburg. Columbia Law School. Web. 1 May 2015.
Dodson, Scott. The Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Cambridge UP, 2015. 4. Print.
Kay, Herma. "Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Professor of Law." Columbia Law Review 2 (2004).
Berkeley Scholarship Repository. Web. 1 May 2015. <http://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?&>.
Lacont, Amy. "10 Reasons Why Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Kicks Ass." Bust. 10 July 2013. Web. 1 May 2015.
"Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act." National Women's Law Center. National Women's Law Center, 29 Jan. 2013. Web. 1 May 2015.
McDonough, Katie. "Ruth Bader Ginsburg Showed Off Her Collars, Here Are the Best Ones." Salon. Salon, 1 Aug. 2014. Web. 1 May 2015.
Prokop, Andrew. "Ruth Bader Ginsburg Works Out Like a Canadian Air Force Pilot." Vox. 30 Sept. 2014. Web. 1 May 2015.
Salokar, Rebecca, and Mary Volcansek. Women in the Law: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook. Greenwood, 1996. 78. Print.
Stoll, Ira. "Ginsburg Blasts Harvard Law." Ginsburg Blasts Harvard Law.
The Harvard Crimson, 23 July 1993. Web. 1 May 2015.
Zaretsky, Staci. "Quote of the Day: Let Your Inner Diva Shine, RBG!" Above the Law. 4 Feb. 2013. Web. 1 May 2015.
Lucy is passionate about progressive politics, deliberative dialogue, and alliteration. She is constantly searching for the unknown, for inspiration and erring on the side of truth. A native New Yorker, she is now studying at Wake Forest University, concentrating her studies in Finance and Chinese, [...]