By Sarah Brill, Science and Technology Editor
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born March 15, 1933 in Brooklyn, New York to Jewish parents. Bader attended Cornell as an undergraduate, and after working in the Social Security Administration, she attended Harvard University Law School where she was one out of nine women in a 500-person class. After her husband, Martin D. Ginsburg, received a job offer in New York City, Bader transferred to Columbia University, and graduated with a law degree, tying for first in her class.
1959 was not the time for women in the workplace. Bader had difficulty finding employment following her graduation. In 1960, Ginsburg applied to Justice Felix Frankfurter of the Supreme Court’s office as a law clerk, but was denied due to her gender because “he just wasn’t ready to hire a woman …”
One of Ginsburg’s Columbia law professors, Gerald Gunther, pushed for her to be hired, this time by Judge Edmund L. Palmieri of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. After attempting to refuse, the professor threatened to never recommend another Columbia graduate to his office if he did not hire her. Ginsburg was hired and served as a federal law clerk for two years.
The sex divide continued to haunt Ginsburg as she accepted a faculty position at Rutgers University Law School on the basis that she would be paid less than her male counterparts because her husband also had a job.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s first large case took place in Colorado. Charles Moritz, caretaker of his 89-year-old mother, was unable to claim IRS tax deduction because “by statute, [it] could only be claimed by women, or widowed or divorced men. But Moritz had never married.” An unmarried man was unconventional and controversial at the time. Bader was fighting an sex equality case for the opposite gender. According to her husband, Ruth Bader Ginsburg deemed this case the “mother brief.” She had to think through all the issues and how to fix the inequity. The solution was to ask the court not to invalidate the statute but to apply it equally to both sexes. She won in the lower courts.”
After many years of law, Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court in “1993 by President Bill Clinton and in recent years served as the most senior member of the court’s liberal wing …”
One of her most notable cases fighting against gender inequality was about the Virginia Military Institute. Three years after Ginsburg joined the Supreme court, a new case took the stage in 1996 challenging an all-male admissions policy at the Virginia Military Institute. Ginsburg took this case with a fierce drive aiming to have state-funded schools accept women. Ginsburg wrote “generalizations about ‘the way women are,’ estimates of what is appropriate for most women, no longer justify denying opportunity to women whose talent and capacity place them outside the average description.” This case resonates in history as a landmark of sex equality because in arguing her claim, she was also aiming to establish sex equality as a “‘fundamental constituional norm.’”
Three years after this historic case, Bader received news that she had colon cancer. After fighting it and going into remission, a decade later, Bader was diagnosed with early-stage pancreatic cancer. Despite her diagnosis and constantly being in and out of remission, Bader continued to fight for the rights of all. Her dedication to her job and to the people shined through in May of 2020 when, from the hospital bed, Bader went to war for free birth control. This came on the heels of a new rule that made it ‘ok’ for employers with religious or moral objections to avoid offering healthcare coverage. “‘You have just tossed entirely to the winds what Congress thought was essential, that is, that women be provided these services with no hassle, no cost to them. Instead you are shifting the employer’s religious beliefs — the cost of them — onto the employees,’ Ginsburg told Solicitor General Noel Francisco who was defending the Trump administration rules alongside the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns who say covering contraception for their employees would violate their religious beliefs.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s rise as a pop-culture icon began in 2013 when a blog from former New York University student Shana Knizhnik depicted Ginsburg as the ‘Notorious RBG.’ This came as a play on the late rapper The Notorious B.I.G., and it features a visage of the justice wearing a crown and her trademark lace collar. The blog came on the heels of Ginsburg’s dissent about voting rights in states with histories of racial discrimination.
In May of 2018, Ginsburg’s status as a political and pop icon turned many heads in her direction. A documentary about her life and her accomplishments was released titled “RBG” because director Betsy West had noticed Ginsburg’s track record and trailblazing success. West stated that “It’s this incongruousness of an 85-year-old Jewish grandmother who is speaking truth to power.” Six months after the documentary released, the movie “On the Basis of Sex” aired in theaters. This movie outlined the numerous obstacles Ginsburg had to face while starting and maintaining his career. Her popularity increased as Kate Mckinnon from “Saturday Night Live” started depicting her as a bada** grandma in a prominent seat of power.
This political, pop, feminist, Jewish icon devastatingly lost her battle to metastatic pancreatic cancer on September 18, 2020. Ruth Bader Ginsburg died at 87 in her home in Washington DC.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legacy will live on forever. She paved the way for Jewish women to take seats of power, as she herself was the first Jewish woman appointed to the Supreme Court. She was vivacious, resilient, and altogether notorious, and her memory will forever be a blessing.