In memory of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

On Sept. 18, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died due to complications with pancreatic cancer, vacating her spot on the court after 27 years. She was 87. 

In her time as a lawyer, Ginsburg fought and won many cases focused on gender discrimination, including Reed v. Reed (1971), in which she succeeded in extending women’s rights under the 14th Amendment. Starting in 1970, she also became a director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which participated in hundreds of cases relating to gender discrimination. 

Ginsburg was born on March 15, 1933  in Brooklyn, New York to Celia and Nathan Bader alongside her sister, Marilyn Bader. 

Her Jewish heritage was influential in her childhood. Though they weren’t devout in practice, Ginsburg’s family belonged to the East Midwood Jewish Center, where she learned about her faith and the Hebrew language. She also attended a Jewish summer camp from the age of four, becoming a counselor at 18.

Ginsburg attended three different universities, including Cornell, Harvard, and Columbia. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Cornell at age 21, before moving on to Harvard Law School as one of nine women in a class of 500. In 1958, she transferred to Columbia Law School, where she graduated at the top of the Class of 1959. It was during these years that she met and married her husband of 56 years, lawyer and U.S. Army veteran Martin David Ginsburg, who died in 2010. 

At the start of her career as a lawyer, Ginsburg had trouble finding a job. She was rejected because of her gender by Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter for a clerkship position despite a strong recommendation from her Harvard professor. It was only until Ginsburg’s Columbia professor, Gerald Gunther, threatened Judge Edmund L. Palmieri with never recommending to him again that she was hired as a law clerk at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

In 1963, she was hired as a professor at Rutgers University School of Law then again at Columbia University School of Law. At Columbia, she became the first woman ever to be hired with tenure.

In 1980 she became a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, where she served for 13 years until President Bill Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court, replacing Justice Byron White. She was the second woman to hold a seat in the highest court.

Ginsburg served as a Supreme Court justice for the remainder of her life, during which time she was recognized for several accomplishments. Ginsburg was a key decision-maker in many landmark cases, including being against gender discrimination in the US v. Virginia (1996) case, and supporting abortion rights in Stenberg v. Carhart (2000). She also wrote in the majority opinion that mental illness is a form of disability covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 in Olmstead v. L.C. (1999).

After surviving a battle with colon cancer, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and was part of Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women from 2004 to 2011, alongside many other accolades.

She is survived by her two children, Jane and James Ginsburg, four grandchildren, and two step-grandchildren. On her deathbed, Ginsburg dictated to her granddaughter, Clara Spera, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”