Ruth Bader Ginsburg

From New World Encyclopedia

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Official portrait, 2016

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
August 10, 1993 – September 18, 2020
Preceded by Byron White
Succeeded by Amy Coney Barrett

Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
In office
June 30, 1980 – August 9, 1993
Preceded by Harold Leventhal
Succeeded by David Tatel

Born March 15 1933(1933-03-15)
New York City, U.S.
Died September 18 2020 (aged 87)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Spouse Martin Ginsburg
(m. 1954; died 2010)
Children Jane, James
Signature Ruth Bader Ginsburg's signature

Joan Ruth Bader Ginsburg (/ˈbeɪdər ˈɡɪnzbɜːrɡ/ BAY-dər GHINZ-burg; née Bader; March 15, 1933 - September 18, 2020) was an American lawyer and jurist who served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1993 until her death in September 2020. She was nominated by President Bill Clinton, replacing retiring justice Byron White, and at the time was generally viewed as a moderate consensus-builder. She eventually became part of the liberal wing of the Court as it shifted to the right over time. Ginsburg was the first Jewish woman and the second woman to serve on the Court, after Sandra Day O'Connor.

Ginsburg spent much of her legal career as an advocate for gender equality and women's rights, winning many arguments before the Supreme Court. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where she served until her appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993. Between O'Connor's retirement in 2006 and the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor in 2009, she was the only female justice on the Supreme Court. During her tenure, Ginsburg wrote notable majority opinions. She received attention in American popular culture for her passionate dissents in numerous cases, widely seen as reflecting paradigmatically liberal views of the law. She was dubbed "The Notorious R.B.G.," and she later embraced the moniker.

Despite two bouts with cancer and public pleas from liberal law scholars, she decided not to retire in 2013 or 2014 when Democrats could appoint her successor. Despite receiving treatment for further cancer, she continued to work until her death. Ginsburg died at her home in Washington, D.C., on September 18, 2020, at the age of 87, from complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer. A lifelong trailblazer for human rights and gender equality, Ginsburg made her mark on society, bringing the world closer to recognizing the value of women.


Joan Ruth Bader was born on March 15, 1933, at Beth Moses Hospital in Brooklyn, New York City, the second daughter of Celia (née Amster) and Nathan Bader, who lived in the Flatbush neighborhood. Her father was a Jewish emigrant from Odessa, Ukraine, at that time part of the Russian Empire, and her mother was born in New York to Jewish parents who came from Kraków, Poland, at that time part of Austria-Hungary.[1]

The Baders' elder daughter Marylin died of meningitis at age six, when Ruth was 14 months old. The family called Joan Ruth "Kiki," a nickname Marylin had given her for being "a kicky baby." When "Kiki" started school, Celia discovered that her daughter's class had several other girls named Joan, so Celia suggested the teacher call her daughter "Ruth" to avoid confusion.[2]

Although not devout, the Bader family belonged to East Midwood Jewish Center, a Conservative synagogue, where Ruth learned tenets of the Jewish faith and gained familiarity with the Hebrew language.[2] Ruth was not allowed to have a bat mitzvah ceremony because of Orthodox restrictions on women reading from the Torah, which led to feelings of jealousy over a male cousin's bar mitzvah that she still recalled later in life.[3] Starting as a camper from the age of four, Ruth attended Camp Che-Na-Wah, a Jewish summer program at Lake Balfour near Minerva, New York, where she was later a camp counselor until the age of eighteen.[4]

Celia took an active role in her daughter's education, often taking her to the library.[5] Celia had been a good student in her youth, graduating from high school at age 15, yet she could not further her own education because her family instead chose to send her brother to college. Celia wanted her daughter to get more education, which she thought would allow Ruth to become a high school history teacher.[6] Ruth attended James Madison High School, whose law program later dedicated a courtroom in her honor. Celia struggled with cancer throughout Ruth's high school years and died the day before Ruth's high school graduation.[5]


Ginsburg in 1959, wearing her Columbia Law School academic regalia

Bader attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and was a member of Alpha Epsilon Phi.[7] While at Cornell, she studied under Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov, and she later identified Nabokov as a major influence on her development as a writer.[8] She was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the highest-ranking female student in her graduating class.[7][9] She graduated from Cornell with a bachelor of arts degree in government on June 23, 1954.

In the fall of 1956, Ginsburg enrolled at Harvard Law School, where she was one of only nine women in a class of about 500 men. The dean of Harvard Law reportedly invited all the female law students to dinner at his family home and asked the female law students, including Ginsburg, "Why are you at Harvard Law School, taking the place of a man?" The dean later claimed he was trying to learn these students' stories so that he could satisfy his colleagues who still thought it unwise to admit women.[10][11] When her husband took a job in New York City, that same dean denied Ginsburg's request to complete her third year towards a Harvard law degree at Columbia Law School,[4] so Ginsburg transferred to Columbia and became the first woman to be on two major law reviews: the Harvard Law Review and Columbia Law Review. In 1959, she earned her law degree at Columbia and tied for first in her class.[5][12]

Marriage and Family

Martin and Ruth Ginsburg at a White House event, 2009

While at Cornell, aged 17, she met Martin D. Ginsburg.[6] They married a month after her graduation from Cornell. She and Martin moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he was stationed as a Reserve Officers' Training Corps officer in the United States Army Reserve after his call-up to active duty.[6][9]

At age 21, she worked for the Social Security Administration office in Oklahoma, where she was demoted after becoming pregnant with her first child. She gave birth to a daughter in 1955.[13]

After the birth of their daughter, Ginsburg's husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Ginsburg attended class and took notes for both of them, typing her his dictated papers and caring for their daughter and her sick husband. During this period, she also made the Harvard Law Review.

Martin D. Ginsburg became an internationally prominent tax attorney practicing at Weil, Gotshal & Manges. Upon her accession to the D.C. Circuit, the couple moved from New York City to Washington, D.C., where her husband became a professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center. Their daughter, Jane C. Ginsburg (born 1955), is a professor at Columbia Law School. Their son, James Steven Ginsburg (born 1965), is the founder and president of Cedille Records, a classical music recording company based in Chicago, Illinois.

They celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary on June 23, 2010. Martin Ginsburg died of complications from metastatic cancer on June 27, 2010.[14]


Ginsburg was a non-observant Jew, attributing this to gender inequality in Jewish prayer ritual and relating it to her mother's death. However, she said she might have felt differently if she were younger, and she was pleased that Reform and Conservative Judaism were becoming more egalitarian in this regard.[15] In March 2015, Ginsburg and Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt released an essay titled "The Heroic and Visionary Women of Passover," highlighting the roles of five key women in the saga:

These women had a vision leading out of the darkness shrouding their world. They were women of action, prepared to defy authority to make their vision a reality bathed in the light of the day.[16]

She decorated her chambers with an artist's rendering of the Hebrew phrase from Deuteronomy, Zedek, zedek, tirdof ("Justice, justice shall you pursue"), as a reminder of her heritage and professional responsibility.[17]

Ginsburg had a collection of lace jabots from around the world.[18] She said in 2014 she had a particular jabot she wore when issuing her dissents (black with gold embroidery and faceted stones) as well as another she wore when issuing majority opinions (crocheted yellow and cream with crystals), which was a gift from her law clerks. Her favorite jabot (woven with white beads) was from Cape Town, South Africa.[18]


In 1999, Ginsburg was diagnosed with colon cancer, the first of her five bouts with cancer.[19] She underwent surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation therapy. During the process, she did not miss a day on the bench. Ginsburg was physically weakened by the cancer treatment, and she began working with a personal trainer.[20] Ginsburg saw her physical fitness improve after her first bout with cancer; she was able to complete twenty push-ups in a session before her 80th birthday.[21]

Nearly a decade after her first bout with cancer, Ginsburg again underwent surgery on February 5, 2009, this time for pancreatic cancer. She had a tumor that was discovered at an early stage.[22] She was released from a New York City hospital on February 13, 2009 and returned to the bench when the Supreme Court went back into session on February 23, 2009.[23] After experiencing discomfort while exercising in the Supreme Court gym in November 2014, she had a stent placed in her right coronary artery.[24]

Ginsburg's next hospitalization helped her detect another round of cancer. On November 8, 2018, Ginsburg fell in her office at the Supreme Court, fracturing three ribs, for which she was hospitalized. An outpouring of public support followed.[25] On December 21, Ginsburg underwent a left-lung lobectomy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to remove the nodules.[26] For the first time since joining the Court more than 25 years earlier, Ginsburg missed oral argument on January 7, 2019, while she recuperated.[27] She returned to the Supreme Court on February 15, 2019 to participate in a private conference with other justices in her first appearance at the court since her cancer surgery in December 2018.[28]

Months later in August 2019, the Supreme Court announced that Ginsburg had recently completed three weeks of focused radiation treatment to ablate a tumor found in her pancreas over the summer.[29] By January 2020, Ginsburg was cancer-free. By February 2020, the cancer had returned but this news was not released to the public.[19] However, by May 2020, Ginsburg was once again receiving treatment for a recurrence of cancer.[30] She reiterated her position that she "would remain a member of the court as long as I can do the job full steam," adding that she remained fully able to do so.[31][32]


Ginsburg died from complications of pancreatic cancer on September 18, 2020, at age 87.[33] She died on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, and according to Rabbi Richard Jacobs, "One of the themes of Rosh Hashanah suggest that very righteous people would die at the very end of the year because they were needed until the very end."[34] After the announcement of her death, thousands of people gathered in front of the Supreme Court building to lay flowers, light candles, and leave messages.[35]

Five days after her death, the eight Supreme Court justices, Ginsburg's children, and other family members held a private ceremony for Ginsburg in the court's great hall. Following the private ceremony, due to COVID-19 pandemic conditions prohibiting the usual lying in repose in the great hall, Ginsburg's casket was moved outdoors to the court's west portico so the public could pay respects. Thousands of mourners lined up to walk past the casket over the course of two days.[36] After the two days in repose at the court, Ginsburg lay in state at the Capitol. She was the first woman and first Jew to lie in state therein. (Rosa Parks was the first woman to lie in honor at the U.S. Capitol in 2005.) On September 29, Ginsburg was buried beside her husband in Arlington National Cemetery.[37]

Early career

At the start of her legal career, Ginsburg encountered difficulty in finding employment.[38] In 1960, Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter rejected Ginsburg for a clerkship position due to her gender, despite a strong recommendation from Albert Martin Sacks, who was a professor and later dean of Harvard Law School.[39]

Columbia law professor Gerald Gunther also pushed for Judge Edmund L. Palmieri of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to hire Ginsburg as a law clerk, threatening to never recommend another Columbia student to Palmieri if he did not give Ginsburg the opportunity and guaranteeing to provide the judge with a replacement clerk should Ginsburg not succeed.[13][40] Later that year, Ginsburg began her clerkship for Judge Palmieri, and she held the position for two years.[13][5]


From 1961 to 1963, Ginsburg was a research associate and then an associate director of the Columbia Law School Project on International Procedure. She learned Swedish to co-author a book with Anders Bruzelius on civil procedure in Sweden,[41] conducting extensive research for the book at Lund University in Sweden.[42] Ginsburg's time in Sweden and her association with the Swedish Bruzelius family of jurists influenced her thinking on gender equality. She was inspired when she observed the changes in Sweden, where women were 20 to 25 percent of all law students; one of the judges whom Ginsburg observed for her research was eight months pregnant and still working.[6]

Ginsburg's first position as a professor was at Rutgers Law School in 1963. The appointment was not without its drawbacks; Ginsburg was informed she would be paid less than her male colleagues because she had a husband with a well-paid job.[38] She was a professor of law, mainly civil procedure, at Rutgers from 1963 to 1972, receiving tenure from the school in 1969.[43][44]

She served as the first-ever faculty advisor for the Women's Rights Law Reporter, the first law journal in the U.S. to focus exclusively on women's rights. [45] From 1972 to 1980, she taught at Columbia Law School, where she became the first tenured woman and co-authored the first law school casebook on sex discrimination.[44] She also spent a year as a fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University from 1977 to 1978.[11]

Litigation and advocacy

Ginsburg in 1977, photographed by Lynn Gilbert

In 1972, Ginsburg co-founded the Women's Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and in 1973, she became the Project's general counsel.[9] As the director of the ACLU's Women's Rights Project, she argued six gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court between 1973 and 1976, winning five. Rather than asking the Court to end all gender discrimination at once, Ginsburg charted a strategic course, taking aim at specific discriminatory statutes and building on each successive victory. She chose plaintiffs carefully, at times picking male plaintiffs to demonstrate that gender discrimination was harmful to both men and women. The laws Ginsburg targeted included those that on the surface appeared beneficial to women, but in fact reinforced the notion that women needed to be dependent on men.[39] Her strategic advocacy extended to word choice, favoring the use of "gender" instead of "sex," after her secretary suggested the word "sex" would serve as a distraction to judges.[44]

She attained a reputation as a skilled oral advocate, and her work led directly to the end of gender discrimination in many areas of the law.[46]

Ginsburg volunteered to write the brief for Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71 (1971), in which the Supreme Court extended the protections of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to women.[44] In 1972, she argued before the 10th Circuit in Moritz v. Commissioner on behalf of a man who had been denied a caregiver deduction because of his gender. As amicus she argued in Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677 (1973), which challenged a statute making it more difficult for a female service member (Frontiero) to claim an increased housing allowance for her husband than for a male service member seeking the same allowance for his wife. Ginsburg argued that the statute treated women as inferior, and the Supreme Court ruled 8–1 in Frontiero's favor.[39] The court again ruled in Ginsburg's favor in Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, 420 U.S. 636 (1975), where Ginsburg represented a widower denied survivor benefits under Social Security, which permitted widows but not widowers to collect special benefits while caring for minor children. She argued that the statute discriminated against male survivors of workers by denying them the same protection as their female counterparts.[47]

Ginsburg filed an amicus brief and sat with counsel at oral argument for Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190 (1976), which challenged an Oklahoma statute that set different minimum drinking ages for men and women. For the first time, the court imposed what is known as intermediate scrutiny on laws discriminating based on gender, a heightened standard of Constitutional review.[39][47] Her last case as an attorney before the Supreme Court was in 1978 Duren v. Missouri, 439 U.S. 357 (1979), which challenged the validity of voluntary jury duty for women, on the ground that participation in jury duty was a citizen's vital governmental service and therefore should not be optional for women.

Legal scholars and advocates credit Ginsburg's body of work with making significant legal advances for women under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. Taken together, Ginsburg's legal victories discouraged legislatures from treating women and men differently under the law.[44][39][47] She continued to work on the ACLU's Women's Rights Project until her appointment to the Federal Bench in 1980.

Later, colleague Antonin Scalia praised Ginsburg's skills as an advocate: "She became the leading (and very successful) litigator on behalf of women's rights—the Thurgood Marshall of that cause, so to speak."[48] Janet Benshoof, the president of the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, made a similar comparison between Ginsburg and Marshall in 1993.[39]

U.S. Court of Appeals

In light of the mounting backlog in the federal judiciary, Congress passed the Omnibus Judgeship Act of 1978 increasing the number of federal judges by 117 in district courts and another 35 to be added to the circuit courts. The law placed an emphasis on ensuring that the judges included women and minority groups, a matter that was important to President Jimmy Carter who had been elected two years before. The bill also required that the nomination process consider the character and experience of the candidates. Ginsburg was considering a change in career as soon as Carter was elected. She was interviewed by the Department of Justice to become Solicitor General, the position she most desired, but knew that she and the African-American candidate who was interviewed the same day had little chance of being appointed by Attorney General Griffin Bell.[4]

Ginsburg with President Jimmy Carter in 1980

At the time, Ginsburg was a fellow at Stanford University, where she was working on a written account of her work in litigation and advocacy for equal rights. Her husband was a visiting professor at Stanford Law School and was ready to leave his firm, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, for a tenured position. He was at the same time working hard to promote a possible judgeship for his wife. In January 1979, she filled out the questionnaire for possible nominees to the court of appeals for the Second Circuit, and another for the District of Columbia Circuit.[4] Ginsburg was nominated by President Carter on April 14, 1980, to a seat on the DC circuit appeals court which was vacated by Judge Harold Leventhal upon his death. She was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 18, 1980, and received her commission later that day.[43]

During her time as a judge on the DC Circuit, Ginsburg often found consensus with her colleagues including conservatives Robert H. Bork and Antonin Scalia.[49] Her time on the court earned her a reputation as a "cautious jurist" and a moderate. Her service ended on August 9, 1993, due to her elevation to the United States Supreme Court.[43]

Supreme Court

Nomination and confirmation

Ginsburg officially accepting the nomination from President Bill Clinton on June 14, 1993

President Bill Clinton nominated Ginsburg as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on June 22, 1993, to fill the seat vacated by retiring Justice Byron White.[43] At the time of her nomination, Ginsburg was viewed as a moderate, and as a consensus builder in her time on the appeals court.[50] Clinton was reportedly looking to increase the court's diversity, which Ginsburg did as the first Jewish justice since the 1969 resignation of Justice Abe Fortas. She was the second female and the first Jewish female justice of the Supreme Court.[51] The American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary rated Ginsburg as "well qualified," its highest possible rating for a prospective justice.[52]

During her testimony before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary as part of the confirmation hearings, Ginsburg refused to answer questions about her view on the constitutionality of some issues such as the death penalty as it was an issue she might have to vote on if it came before the court.[53]

Chief Justice William Rehnquist swearing in Ginsburg as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, as her husband Martin Ginsburg and President Clinton watch

At the same time, Ginsburg did answer questions about some potentially controversial issues. For instance, she affirmed her belief in a constitutional right to privacy and explained at some length her personal judicial philosophy and thoughts regarding gender equality.[54] Ginsburg was more forthright in discussing her views on topics about which she had previously written.[53] The United States Senate confirmed her by a 96–3 vote on August 3, 1993 and she received her commission on August 5, 1993,[43] taking her judicial oath on August 10, 1993.

Supreme Court tenure

Ginsburg characterized her performance on the court as a cautious approach to adjudication. She argued in a speech shortly before her nomination to the court that "[m]easured motions seem to me right, in the main, for constitutional as well as common law adjudication. Doctrinal limbs too swiftly shaped, experience teaches, may prove unstable."[55] Legal scholar Cass Sunstein characterized Ginsburg as a "rational minimalist," a jurist who seeks to build cautiously on precedent rather than pushing the Constitution towards her own vision.[56]

Sandra Day O'Connor, Sonia Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan, October 1, 2010. O'Connor is not wearing a robe because she was retired from the court when the picture was taken.

The retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in 2006 left Ginsburg as the only woman on the court, and she remained the only female justice on the court until Sotomayor was sworn in on August 7, 2009.[57] Linda Greenhouse of The New York Times referred to the subsequent 2006–2007 term of the court as "the time when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg found her voice, and used it."[58] The term also marked the first time in Ginsburg's history with the court where she read multiple dissents from the bench, a tactic employed to signal more intense disagreement with the majority.

With the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens, Ginsburg became the senior member of what was sometimes referred to as the court's "liberal wing."[44] When the court split 5–4 along ideological lines and the liberal justices were in the minority, Ginsburg often had the authority to assign authorship of the dissenting opinion because of her seniority. The 2018 case of Sessions v. Dimaya marked the first time Ginsburg was able to assign a majority opinion, when Justice Neil Gorsuch voted with the liberal wing. Ginsburg was a proponent of the liberal dissenters speaking "with one voice" and, where practicable, presenting a unified approach to which all the dissenting justices can agree.[44]

Gender discrimination

Ginsburg authored the court's opinion in United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515 (1996), which struck down the Virginia Military Institute's (VMI) male-only admissions policy as violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. For Ginsburg, a state actor could not use gender to deny women equal protection, therefore VMI must allow women the opportunity to attend VMI with its unique educational methods.[59]

Commissioned portrait of Ginsburg in 2000

Ginsburg dissented in the court's decision on Ledbetter v. Goodyear, 550 U.S. 618 (2007), a case where plaintiff Lilly Ledbetter filed a lawsuit against her employer claiming pay discrimination based on her gender under TitleTemplate:NbsVII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In a 5–4 decision, the majority interpreted the statute of limitations as starting to run at the time of every pay period, even if a woman did not know she was being paid less than her male colleague until later. As part of her dissent, Ginsburg called on Congress to amend Title VII to undo the court's decision with legislation. Following the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, making it easier for employees to win pay discrimination claims, became law. Ginsburg was credited with helping to inspire the law.[60]

Abortion rights

Ginsburg discussed her views on abortion and gender equality in a 2009 New York Times interview, in which she said, "[t]he basic thing is that the government has no business making that choice for a woman."[61] She consistently supported abortion rights and joined in the court's opinion striking down Nebraska's partial-birth abortion law in Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 914 (2000)

Ginsburg was in the minority for Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. 124 (2007), a 5–4 decision upholding restrictions on partial birth abortion. In her dissent, Ginsburg opposed the majority's decision to defer to legislative findings that the procedure was not safe for women. Ginsburg focused her ire on the way Congress reached its findings and with the veracity of the findings.[62] Joining the majority for Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, 579 U.S. 15-274 (2016), a case which struck down parts of a 2013 Texas law regulating abortion providers, Ginsburg also authored a short concurring opinion which was even more critical of the legislation at issue. She asserted the legislation was not aimed at protecting women's health, as Texas had said, but rather to impede women's access to abortions.[62]

Search and seizure

Although Ginsburg did not author the majority opinion, she was credited with influencing her colleagues on the case Safford Unified School District v. Redding, 557 U.S. 364 (2009). The court ruled that a school went too far in ordering a 13-year-old female student to strip to her underwear so female officials could search for drugs.[63] In an interview published prior to the court's decision, Ginsburg shared her view that some of her colleagues did not fully appreciate the effect of a strip search on a 13-year-old girl. As she said, "They have never been a 13-year-old girl."[64] In an 8–1 decision, the court agreed that the school's search went too far and violated the Fourth Amendment and allowed the student's lawsuit against the school to go forward. Only Ginsburg and Stevens would have allowed the student to sue individual school officials as well.[63]

In Herring v. United States, 555 U.S. 135 (2009), Ginsburg dissented from the court's decision not to suppress evidence due to a police officer's failure to update a computer system. In contrast to Roberts' emphasis on suppression as a means to deter police misconduct, she took a more robust view on the use of suppression as a remedy for a violation of a defendant's Fourth Amendment rights. Ginsburg viewed suppression as a way to prevent the government from profiting from mistakes, and therefore as a remedy to preserve judicial integrity and respect civil rights. She also rejected Roberts's assertion that suppression would not deter mistakes, contending making police pay a high price for mistakes would encourage them to take greater care.[65]

International law

Ginsburg advocated the use of foreign law and norms to shape U.S. law in judicial opinions, a view rejected by some of her conservative colleagues. She supported using foreign interpretations of law for persuasive value and possible wisdom, not as precedent which the court is bound to follow.[66] Ginsburg's reliance on international law dated back to her time as an attorney; in her first argument before the court, Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71 (1971), she cited two German cases. In her concurring opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003), a decision upholding Michigan Law School's affirmative action admissions policy, Ginsburg noted there was accord between the notion that affirmative action admissions policies would have an end point and agrees with international treaties designed to combat racial and gender-based discrimination.[67]

Voting rights and affirmative action

In 2013, Ginsburg dissented in Shelby County v. Holder, in which the court held unconstitutional the part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 requiring federal preclearance before changing voting practices. Ginsburg wrote, "Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."[68]

Besides Grutter, Ginsburg wrote in favor of affirmative action in her dissent in Gratz v. Bollinger (2003), in which the court ruled an affirmative action policy unconstitutional because it was not narrowly tailored to the state's interest in diversity. She argued that "government decisionmakers may properly distinguish between policies of exclusion and inclusion...Actions designed to burden groups long denied full citizenship stature are not sensibly ranked with measures taken to hasten the day when entrenched discrimination and its after effects have been extirpated."[69]

Native Americans

In 1997, Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion in Strate v. A-1 Contractors against tribal jurisdiction over tribal owned land in a reservation. The case involved a nonmember who caused a car crash in the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation. Ginsburg reasoned that the state right-of-way on which the crash occurred rendered the tribal owned land equivalent to non-Indian land. She concluded that although "those who drive carelessly on a public highway running through a reservation endanger all in the vicinity, and surely jeopardize the safety of tribal members," having a nonmember go before an "unfamiliar court" was "not crucial to the political integrity, the economic security, or the health or welfare of the Three Affiliated Tribes." The decision, by a unanimous Court, was generally criticized by scholars of Indian law, such as David Getches and Frank Pommersheim.[70]

Later in 2005, Ginsburg cited the doctrine of discovery in the majority opinion of City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York and concluded that the Oneida Indian Nation could not revive its ancient sovereignty over its historic land.[71] In her opinion for the court, Ginsburg reasoned that the historic Oneida land had been "converted from wilderness" ever since it was dislodged from the Oneidas' possession.[72] Lower courts later relied on Sherrill as precedent to extinguish Native American land claims, notably in Cayuga Indian Nation of New York v. Pataki.[70] Ginsburg regretted her decision in Sherrill more than any other decision she made in the court.[73]

Less than a year after Sherrill, Ginsburg offered a starkly contrasting approach to Native American law. In December 2005, Ginsburg dissented in Wagnon v. Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, arguing that a state tax on fuel sold to Potawatomi retailers would impermissibly nullify the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation's own tax authority.[70] In 2008, when Ginsburg's precedent in Strate was used in Plains Commerce Bank v. Long Family Land & Cattle Co., she dissented in part and argued that the tribal court of the Cheyenne River Lakota Nation had jurisdiction over the case.[70] In 2020, Ginsburg joined the ruling of McGirt v. Oklahoma, which affirmed Native American jurisdictions over reservations in much of Oklahoma.[74]

Other notable majority opinions

In 1999, Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion in Olmstead v. L.C., in which the Court ruled that mental illness is a form of disability covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.[75]

In 2000, Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion in Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services, Inc., in which the Court held that residents have standing to seek fines for an industrial polluter that affected their interests and that is able to continue doing so.[76]

Decision not to retire

When John Paul Stevens retired in 2010, Ginsburg became the oldest justice on the court at age 77.[77] Despite rumors that she would retire because of advancing age, poor health, and the death of her husband, she denied she was planning to step down. In an interview in August 2010, Ginsburg said her work on the court was helping her cope with the death of her husband. She also expressed a wish to emulate Justice Louis Brandeis's service of nearly 23 years, which she achieved in April 2016.[77]

Several times during the presidency of Barack Obama, progressive attorneys and activists called for Ginsburg to retire so that Obama could appoint a like-minded successor, particularly while the Democratic party held control of the U.S. Senate. Ginsburg reaffirmed her wish to remain a justice as long as she was mentally sharp enough to perform her duties.[78] In 2013, Barack Obama himself invited her to the White House when it seemed likely that Democrats would lose control of the Senate, but she again refused to step down.[79] She stated she had a new "model" to emulate in former colleague Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired at age 90 after nearly 35 years on the bench.[80]

After Donald Trump's victory in 2016 and the election of a Republican Senate, she was forced to wait until the 2020 election for a Democrat to be president, but died in office in September 2020 at age 87.[81]

Other activities

Portrait of Ginsburg, 2006c. 2006

At his request, Ginsburg administered the oath of office to Vice President Al Gore for a second term during the second inauguration of Bill Clinton on January 20, 1997. She was the third woman to administer an inaugural oath of office.

Despite their ideological differences, Ginsburg considered Antonin Scalia her closest colleague on the court. The two justices often dined together and attended the opera.[82] In her spare time, Ginsburg appeared in several operas in non-speaking supernumerary roles such as Die Fledermaus (2003) and Ariadne auf Naxos (1994 and 2009 with Scalia),[83] and spoke lines penned by herself in The Daughter of the Regiment (2016).[84]

Ginsburg's first book, My Own Words published by Simon & Schuster, was released October 4, 2016.[2] The book debuted on The New York Times Best Seller List for hardcover nonfiction at No. 12.[85]

In 2017, Ginsburg gave the keynote address to a Georgetown University symposium on governmental reform. She spoke on the need for improving the confirmation process, "recall[ing] the 'collegiality' and 'civility' of her own nomination and confirmation..."[86]

In 2018, Ginsburg expressed her support for the Me Too movement, which encouraged women to speak up about their experiences with sexual harassment. She reflected on her own experiences with gender discrimination and sexual harassment, including a time when a chemistry professor at Cornell unsuccessfully attempted to trade her exam answers for sex, and told the audience, "It's about time. For so long women were silent, thinking there was nothing you could do about it, but now the law is on the side of women, or men, who encounter harassment and that's a good thing."[87]

Death and succession

Ginsburg was honored in a ceremony in Statuary Hall, and she became the first woman to lie in state at the Capitol, September 25, 2020.

Ginsburg died from complications of pancreatic cancer on September 18, 2020, at age 87.[81] Her death opened a vacancy on the Supreme Court about six weeks before the 2020 presidential election, initiating controversies regarding the nomination and confirmation of her successor.[88]

Days before her death, Ginsburg dictated a statement to her granddaughter Clara Spera, as heard by Ginsburg's doctor and others in the room at the time: "My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed."[81] Despite Ginsburg's request, President Trump's pick to replace her, Amy Coney Barrett, was confirmed by the Senate on October 27.


Ginsburg receiving the LBJ Liberty & Justice for All Award from Lynda Johnson Robb and Luci Baines Johnson at the Library of Congress in January 2020

Ginsburg received numerous awards and recognition for her outstanding achievements during her long career as a jurist, most notably on the United States Supreme Court where she served as the first Jewish woman and the second woman. Her successful work on women's rights and gender equality made her an iconic figure in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. During her tenure on the court, Ginsburg wrote notable majority opinions, continuing to champion the rights of those who suffered discrimination.

Ginsburg received attention in American popular culture for her passionate dissents in numerous cases, widely seen as reflecting paradigmatically liberal views of the law. She was dubbed "The Notorious R.B.G.," and she later embraced the moniker.[89]

Awards and Recognition

In 2002, Ginsburg was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.[90] Ginsburg received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Scribes: The American Society of Legal Writers (2009),[91] and was named one of 100 Most Powerful Women (2009), one of Glamour magazine's Women of the Year 2012,[92] and one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people (2015).

She was awarded honorary degrees by Lund University (1969), American University Law School (1981), Vermont Law School (1984), Georgetown University (1985), DePaul University (1985), Brooklyn Law School (1987), Hebrew Union College (1988), Rutgers University (1990), Amherst College (1990), Lewis & Clark College (1992), Columbia University (1994), Long Island University (1994), NYU (1994), Smith College (1994), The University of Illinois (1994), Brandeis University (1996), George Washington University (1997), Jewish Theological Seminary of America (1997), Wheaton College (Massachusetts) (1997), Northwestern University (1998), University of Michigan (2001), Brown University (2002), Yale University (2003), John Jay College of Criminal Justice (2004), Johns Hopkins University (2004), University of Pennsylvania (2007), Willamette University (2009), Princeton University (2010),[93] as well as Harvard University (2011),[94] and the State University of New York (2019).[95]

Ginsburg was the recipient of the 2019 $1 million Berggruen Prize for Philosophy and Culture, awarded annually in recognition of "thinkers whose ideas have profoundly shaped human self-understanding and advancement in a rapidly changing world." She was recognized “for her work in pioneering gender equality and strengthening the rule of law.”[96] Ginsburg donated the entirety of the prize money to charitable and non-profit organizations, including the Malala Fund, Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel, the American Bar Foundation, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and the Washington Concert Opera.[97] Ginsburg received numerous additional awards, including the LBJ Foundation's Liberty & Justice for All Award, the World Peace & Liberty Award from international legal groups, a lifetime achievement award from Diane von Furstenberg's foundation, and the 2020 Liberty Medal by the National Constitution Center. In February 2020, she received the World Peace & Liberty Award from the World Jurist Association and the World Law Foundation.[98]

In 2013, a painting featuring the four female justices to have served as justices on the Supreme Court (Ginsburg, Sandra Day O'Connor, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan) was unveiled at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.[99]

Researchers at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History gave a species of praying mantis the name Ilomantis ginsburgae after Ginsburg. The name was given because the neck plate of the Ilomantis ginsburgae bears a resemblance to a jabot, which Ginsburg was known for wearing. Moreover, the new species was identified based upon the female insect's genitalia instead of based upon the male of the species. The researchers noted that the name was a nod to Ginsburg's fight for gender equality.[100]

In 2019, the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles created Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg], a large-scale exhibition focusing on Ginsburg's life and career.[101]

In popular culture

Ginsburg has been referred to as a "pop culture icon"[102] and also an "American cultural icon."[101]

Her profile began to rise after O'Connor's retirement in 2006 left Ginsburg as the only serving female justice. Her increasingly fiery dissents, particularly in Shelby County v. Holder, led to the creation of "The Notorious R.B.G.," an internet meme comparing her to rapper The Notorious B.I.G.. The creator of the blog, law student Shana Knizhnik, teamed up with MSNBC reporter Irin Carmon to turn the blog into a book titled Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Released in October 2015, the book became a New York Times bestseller.[103]

In 2015, Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, known for their shared love of opera, were fictionalized in Scalia/Ginsburg, an opera by Derrick Wang, hailed as “a dream come true” by Ginsberg. The opera was introduced before Ginsburg and Scalia at the Supreme Court in 2013, and Ginsburg attended the 2015 Castleton Festival world premiere, as well as a revised version at the 2017 Glimmerglass Festival.[104] Ginsburg, who with Scalia wrote forewords to Wang's libretto, included excerpts from the opera as a chapter in her book My Own Words,[2] and quoted it in her official statement on Scalia's death.[105]

Additionally, Ginsburg's pop culture appeal has inspired nail art, Halloween costumes, a bobblehead doll, tattoos, t-shirts, coffee mugs, and a children's coloring book among other things. She appears in both a comic opera and a workout book. Kate McKinnon portrayed Ginsburg several times on Saturday Night Live.[106]

Numerous television shows and movies have included characters based on Ginsburg, and some have featured cameos by her. Filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen created a documentary about Ginsburg, titled RBG, for CNN Films, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.[40] Another film, On the Basis of Sex, focusing on Ginsburg's career struggles fighting for equal rights, was released later in 2018. English actress Felicity Jones portrays Ginsburg in the film, with Armie Hammer as her husband Marty. Ginsburg herself has a cameo in the film.[107]

In 2018, Ginsburg appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, which featured her following her regular workout routine accompanied by Stephen Colbert joking with her and attempting to perform the same routine. She also answered a few questions and weighed in on the famous internet question "Is a hot dog a sandwich?" and ultimately ruled that, based on Colbert's definition of a sandwich, a hot dog is a sandwich.[108]


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ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bayer, Linda N. Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Chelsea House Pub, 2000. ISBN 0791052877
  • Blackwell, Geoff, and Ruth Hobday. Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I Know This to Be True. Chronicle Books, 2020. ISBN 179720016X
  • De Hart, Jane Sherron. Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life. Vintage, 2020. ISBN 1984897837
  • Carmon, Irin, and Shana Knizhnik. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Dey Street Books, 2015. ISBN 9780062415837
  • Ginsburg, Ruth Bader, and Anders Bruzelius. Civil Procedure in Sweden. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1965. OCLC 3303361
  • Ginsburg, Ruth Bader, Mary Hartnett, and Wendy W. Williams. My Own Words. Simon & Schuster, 2018. ISBN 1501145258
  • Hensley, Thomas R. The Rehnquist Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy (1986-2001) (ABC-CLIO, 2004. ISBN 1576072002
  • Hirschman, Linda. Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World. Harper Perennial, 2016. ISBN 0062238477
  • Johansen, Bruce E., and Barry M. Pritzker (eds.). Encyclopedia of American Indian History: Volume I. ABC-CLIO, 2007. 1851098178
  • Pappas, George. The Literary and Legal Genealogy of Native American Dispossession: The Marshall Trilogy Cases. Routledge, 2018. ISBN 1138481866
  • Pomante, Michael J. II, and Scot Schraufnagel. Historical Dictionary of the Barack Obama Administration. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2018. ISBN 1538111519
  • Scanlon, Jennifer R. Significant Contemporary American Feminists: A Biographical Sourcebook. Greenwood, 1999. ISBN 0313301255
  • Sunstein, Cass R. A Constitution of Many Minds: Why the Founding Document Doesn't Mean What It Meant Before. Princeton University Press, 2009. ISBN 0691133379
  • Toobin, Jeffrey. The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. Anchor, 2008. ISBN 1400096790
  • Tribe, Laurence, and Joshua Matz. Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court and the Constitution. Henry Holt and Co., 2014. ISBN 0805099093

External links

All links retrieved December 22, 2022.

Legal offices
Preceded by:
Harold Leventhal
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Succeeded by: David Tatel
Preceded by:
Byron White
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by: Amy Coney Barrett


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