The Notorious R.B.G. Dies at Age 87
March 15, 1933 – September 18, 2020
“The gender line helps to keep women, not on a pedestal, but in a cage,” she constantly reminded all that she encountered. Justice Joan Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Her older sister died when she was a baby, and her mother died shortly before Ginsburg graduated from high school.
Neither of Ginsburg’s parents could afford to attend college, but they taught the Brooklyn native to love learning things, to care for people, and to work hard for whatever she wanted or believed in. After high school, Ginsburg earned her bachelor’s degree at Cornell University.
She married future tax attorney Martin D. Ginsburg, and as a mother to a baby, she began Harvard Law School. She transferred to Columbia Law School, where she graduated tied for first in her class.
When reflecting about the relationship with her loving husband who supported her decisions, she stated that they both equally believed that, “A women’s work, whether at home or at a job, is as important as a man’s.”
In 1963, she started as a professor at Rutgers Law School and Columbia Law School, teaching civil procedure.
She became a lawyer in days when women were not wanted by most members of the legal profession. In 1973, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg quoted the noted Charleston, South Carolina anti-slavery abolitionist and woman suffragist Sarah Moore Grimké (1792 – 1873), saying, “I ask no favor for my sex, all I ask of from our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” Ginsburg, as a part of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), argued the case for plaintiff Sharron Frontiero in Frontiero v. Richardson (1973). Appellant Sharron Frontiero, a lieutenant in the United States Air Force, sought increased quarters allowances, and housing and medical benefits for her husband, appellant Joseph Frontiero, on the ground that he was her “dependent.” These were the same housing and medical benefits that a similarly situated male in the United States Air Force would have received.
As she opened in the Frontiero case, Ginsburg said, “Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court, Women today face discrimination in employment as pervasive and more subtle than discrimination encountered by minority groups. Sex classifications imply a judgment of inferiority. The sex criterion stigmatizes when it is used to protect women from competing for higher paying jobs, promotions. It assumes that all women are preoccupied with home and children. These distinctions have a common effect: they help keep woman in her place, a place inferior to that occupied by men in our society.”
President Jimmy Carter saw that there were almost no women and no Blacks on the bench, and he was determined to change that. The change in the federal judiciary, as a whole, has been enormous. It wasn’t until he became President… he looked around at the federal judiciary and said, “Don’t they all look like me? But, that’s not how the great United States looks.”
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where she served until her appointment to the United States Supreme Court refusal to step down. She was playfully dubbed “The Notorious R.B.G.,” a reference to Brooklyn-born rapper The Notorious B.I.G.
When Justice Byron Raymond “Whizzer” White retired from the United States Supreme Court in 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated the Ginsburg to serve as Associate Justice. At her confirmation hearing on July 20, 1993, she stated, “In my lifetime, I expect to see three, four, perhaps even more women on the high court bench. Women not shaped from the same mold, but of different complexions. I surely would not be in this room today without the determined efforts of men and women who kept dreams of equal citizenship alive. I have had the great good fortune to share.”
During her tenure on the Court, Ginsburg authored notable majority opinions, including United States v. Virginia (1996), Olmstead v. L.C. (1999), and Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services, Inc. (2000).
Ginsburg was a devout advocate for gender equality and women’s rights, winning multiple arguments before the Supreme Court. She advocated as a volunteer attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
She had such an eloquent way of speaking, teaching, and making her point. She followed her mom’s advice to respond never in anger. “Anger is self-defeating.” Instead of responding in anger, there is “always as an opportunity to teach.”
Ginsburg won five out of the six cases that she argued before the United States Supreme Court.
She died at her home in Washington, D.C., on September 18, 2020, at the age of 87, from complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer, which she had fought since 1999.
Last updated on September 27, 2020