The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

By: Celia Pope

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of America’s greatest female political leaders. 

Ginsburg spent her life pushing through years of adversity and served for thirteen years on the Supreme Court, successfully fighting against gender discrimination and attempting to unify the liberal block of the court, as well as breaking many barriers of unfair gender-based legislations. Sadly, on September 18, 2020, Ginsburg passed away after a long, hard battle with pancreatic cancer. Though her death left the nation in shock and sorrow, we can’t help but realize what an amazing legacy she left behind and how much Ginsburg changed. She not only caused an entire societal transformation, but altered the way America would look at the world forever.

After pushing through years of adversity and struggles with money and her mother’s death, Ruth Bader became Ruth Bader Ginsburg after marrying her husband Martin, and had her first child. Soon after she began her studies at Harvard, her husband was diagnosed with cancer, which, though caring for her husband and maintaining her position at top of the class posed a challenge, never deterred her academic excellence at the school. The struggles of motherhood and having to face extreme discrimination from being in a male-dominated class, even from the highest authorities, began to push her limits. However, being the persister she was, Ginsburg pushed on and not only graduated from Harvard and served as the first female member of the Harvard Law Review, but also went on to do the same at Columbia University and graduated top of her class once more in 1959.

After years of working as a clerk and searching unsuccessfully for a fair job at a firm, she decided to follow her other passion and joined the Columbia Project on International Civil Procedure. During this time, she lived abroad in Sweden to research for her book on Swedish social procedures. Upon her return in 1963, she was hired as a professor at Rutgers University Law School, a position she held until accepting an offer to teach at Columbia in 1972. Ginsburg also directed the influential Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union during the 1970s. In this position, she led the fight against gender discrimination and successfully argued six landmark cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Ginsburg took a broad look at gender discrimination, fighting not just for the women left behind, but for the men who were discriminated against as well. After serving for the U.S. Court of Appeals for thirteen years, Ginsburg was finally appointed by Bill Clinton to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg began her career as a justice where she left off as an advocate: fighting for women’s rights. In her years as a Justice, she did many incredible things, such as writing the majority opinion in United States v. Virginia, holding that qualified women could not be denied admission to Virginia Military Institute. Instead of creating sweeping limitations on gender discrimination, she attacked specific areas of discrimination and violations of women’s rights one at a time, so as to send a message to the legislatures on what they can and cannot do. Ginsburg did not shy away from giving pointed guidance when she felt the need, even in situations such as helping Obama write his first legislation, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. 

According to Oyez.com, “Until her death on September 18, 2020, Ginsburg worked with a personal trainer in the Supreme Court’s exercise room, and for many years could lift more than both Justices Breyer and Kagan.” Ginsburg never missed a day of oral arguments until 2018, not even when she was undergoing chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer, after colon cancer surgery, or the day of her husband’s death. Ginsburg relentlessly proved that she was a force to be reckoned with; anyone who doubted her ability to effectively complete her judicial duties would just have to look at her oral argument records to see that she was among the most avid questionnaires on the bench. Ginsburg was an inspiration to all people around the world and was living proof that you can’t judge a book by its cover. If you look inside her book, you could find one of the most relentless social justice warriors in political history.

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