“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
– Ruth Bader Ginsburg
We tend to look at history for people who inspire and those who have done big things that warrant admiration for decades to come. But what about living legends? The ones who exist, in present times, wielding power and influence in all the right ways. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is someone who we consider to be a living legend.
Only the second woman to serve as a Justice to the Supreme Court, RBG as she is famously called took the oath of office on August 10, 1993 (Click here to read more on how she got her nickname). Ginsburg was appointed by President Bill Clinton. For a woman for whom gender discrimination was the focal point of her career, it was remarkable, to say the least, to be endorsed unanimously by a 96-3 vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
For Ruth, the accolades started at a young age, much to the credit of her mother Celia. Having missed out on the opportunity to go to college herself, Celia encouraged her daughter to pursue her education in a bid to become a high school history teacher. Though her mother succumbed to cancer the day before Ruth’s high school graduation, she went on to pursue bigger dreams starting off with entering Cornell University on a full scholarship. There she met Martin Ginsburg at age 17 and went on to graduate as the highest-ranking female student in her class.
Ruth’s next chapter took her to Harvard Law School in a class of five hundred men and just nine women. Her tryst with gender discrimination became more apparent when the Dean of Harvard Law reportedly asked a gathering of female law students why they were taking the place of a man at a prestigious institution. In her final year, Ruth transferred to Columbia Law School from where she earned her law degree, tied first in her class. Ruth Bader Ginsburg also became the first woman to be on the Columbia Law Review and the Harvard Law Review.
Despite this, she faced considerable discrimination on account of being a woman at the start of her legal career. She was denied a clerkship position with Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter simply for being a woman. Instead, she became a professor at Rutgers Law School and settled for a lesser salary than her male counterparts as she had a “husband with a well-paying job.” Ruth was not one to hold back and in 1970 she co-founded the first law journal to be published in the U.S that was focused on women’s rights. It was around then that she was asked to moderate a women’s liberation panel discussion and taught a seminar on gender discrimination. For this, she partnered with the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) to draft briefs for two federal cases – one of which was brought to her attention by her husband, Marty who encouraged and supported her through every step of her career. The case that Marty brought to her was particularly interesting as it brought to light that men did not receive tax deductions for serving as caregivers to their families, while women did. Through this case, her unique approach tackling gender discrimination issues started to take shape and became her focus through the ’70s and ’80s.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was tactical and strategic in her approach to cases based on sex discrimination. She took on each case at a time, ensuring that winning those would have an impact on future cases she would argue. She would carefully pick her cases, sometimes even choosing to defend male plaintiffs in order to prove to the court that gender-based discrimination was not just a women’s issue and had an adverse impact on both men and women alike. In fact, it was this fresh perspective to gender discrimination cases that she introduced that served her a world of good in her future cases. The smart tactical moves that Ruth consciously made even included her choice of words. Her secretary suggested using the word ‘gender’ instead of ‘sex’ as it allowed her male counterparts and judges to not be distracted.
At the ACLU, Ruth set up the Women’s Rights Project in 1972 and went on to become its general counsel the following year. Within 2 years, this project and other relevant ACLU projects had already weighed in on over 300 gender-based cases. Ginsburg even won five out of six gender discrimination cases in the Supreme Court between 1973 and 1976.
A woman who wore multiple hats, Ruth Bader Ginsburg also became the first-ever tenured woman at the prestigious Columbia University, where she taught for eight years until 1980. It was here that she co-wrote the first law school casebook on gender discrimination.
(Video Credit – CNBC)
With all her formidable achievements over the past decade, Ruth was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. She continued to serve there until she was later appointed to the Supreme Court. Through her career, some of the most notable cases that she has participated in include United States v. Virginia, Olmstead v. L.C., and Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services, Inc.
In more recent times, Ruth had been in the spotlight for expressing concern about the possibility of Donald Trump being elected as President. Traditionally, the court stays out of political matters and refrains from sharing political views. When Trump eventually won the presidential election, she received more flak for not retiring during Obama’s tenure. Staying inspiringly true to herself as always, she continues to be the incumbent Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, more than two years into Trump’s presidency. If asked about it, she will probably politely remind you of John Paul Stevens’ service at the same office until the age of 90.
At GiveHer5, we are all truly inspired by the ‘Flaming Feminist’ that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is. We wanted to learn more about her so we found ourselves watching her speak on Youtube. Below are some of the interviews and videos we came across that would definitely give you, our readers a great insight into who she is, how she stays fit and her story.
Image Source: CNN