US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sadly passed away aged 87 on September 18th, 2020. In this piece I would like us to remember, and learn if you don’t know already, what an incredible woman she was and how she actively changed history.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born to Jewish immigrant parents in Brooklyn, New York City, in 1933. Attending Cornell University, she met her husband Martin Ginsburg whom she married after her graduation in 1954. During her first pregnancy, Ruth was discriminated against in the workplace for simply being pregnant as she was demoted. It was because of this that Ruth chose to conceal her second pregnancy almost a decade later as discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace was still legal.
As one of nine women in a class of 500 she attended Harvard Law School, having to justify why she should take a ‘man’s place’ at the school. Upon graduating top of her class, as a woman she received no job offers after her graduation as a result of her being “Jewish, a woman and a mother.” Ruth taught classes on women and the law at Rutgers Law School around the time that the women’s movement was progressing in the late 60s and through her role she wanted to “devote [time] to moving along this change.”
Ginsburg argued before the Supreme Court in 1971 when she filed the lead brief in Reed v Reed which assessed whether men could be automatically preferred over women as estate executors. The court agreed with Ginsburg’s argument and this was historic as it was the first time that the Supreme Court had struck down a law because it was considered as gender-based discrimination. The following year she co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who launched a series of gender-discrimination cases that sent her before the Supreme Court six times. Five of these six times, she won. Ginsburg was a firm believer in Women’s Rights, and their Rights to be consulted and considered in important decision-making. She famously said “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”
She was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1993 by then-President Bill Clinton. She was the second woman ever confirmed to this bench following Sandra Day O’Connor, who was nominated in 1981. A significant early case was United States v Virginia where there was a men-only admissions policy at the Virginia Military Institute. In response to this, Ginsburg wrote that laws and policies should not be allowed to deny women “full citizenship stature – equal opportunity to aspire, achieve, participate in and contribute to society based on their individual talents and capacities.” Later in her career she upheld the 2010 Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare in the US, and she sided with the 5-4 majority in the Obergefell v Hodges case which legalised same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
Throughout her lifetime and successful career, Ruth Bader Ginsburg survived five major run-ins with cancer and was determined to live to avoid another vacancy on the Supreme Court being filled and resulting with a stronger conservative majority in the era of Donald Trump’s presidency. But sadly, due to complications with pancreatic cancer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg died aged 87 last month.
This information I’ve given here is still only a snapshot of the tremendous work and life that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had, and I would encourage you to read up on her more as she truly was a history-making jurist and a feminist icon. Ginsburg stated that she would “like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability.”
As a young feminist, I am truly saddened by the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but I am also heavily inspired by her life and the legacy that she has left behind. One of my personal favourite quotes is: “Reading is the key that opens many doors to many good things in life. Reading shaped my dreams, and more reading helped my dreams come true.” This quote resonates with me so much as a passionate reader and I think it strongly aligns with the work we do here at Women’s Writes by encouraging education and personal and social progression through learning and reading.
There are many important lessons to learn from the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg as she really was a historic and powerful and wonderful human being. At the end of this post I have recommended two books written by Ruth Bader Ginsburg containing some of her famous speeches and writings that made her the icon that she is today. If there’s even only one small lesson you take away from this piece, let it be that reading is a powerful tool that has the ability to open doors for us and help us make the world a better place.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg (I Know This To Be True): On equality, determination & service by Ruth Bader Ginsburg – here.
My Own Words by Mary Hartnett, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Wendy W. Williams – here.
Photo by @gmalhotra on Unsplash.