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The Life of Notorious RBG

Updated: Sep 18, 2022

Leora Levine

Staff Writer

The late Ruth Bader Ginsberg passed away on September 18th, at eighty-seven years old. One of the most prominent Supreme Court Justices, she served from 1993 until the day she died. Ginsberg was popularly known as "RBG", and the details of her life are fascinating.

Joan Ruth Bader was born on March 15, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York, to a Jewish family. Her father Nathan was a merchant and her mother Celia worked in a clothing factory. Her mother died of cancer the day before Ruth finished high school.

Bader studied at Cornell University on a full scholarship. She met her future husband Martin Ginsberg in college, and they married in 1954, the same year she graduated. After their eldest daughter was born, Martin enlisted in the Army. Two years later, the couple returned to Harvard Law School where Ruth was one of eight women in a class of 500 men. She eventually became the first female student to work on the Harvard Law Review. When Martin was diagnosed with cancer in 1956, she was his caretaker, as well as their young daughter’s, and also worked hard to finish her studies. Martin recovered, graduated, and got a job as a lawyer in New York. Ginsberg finished her studies at Columbia University, in order to be close to her family.

After she graduated, she had a very hard time finding a job because she was a woman. She was hired as a law professor at the Rutgers Law School in 1963, but received a lower salary because her husband had a well-paying job. In the 1970s she was the head of the American Civil Liberties Union's Women's Rights project. She argued six landmark cases on gender equality before the Supreme Court. Interestingly, many of her plaintiffs in these cases were men; Ginsberg wanted to prove that descrimination on the basis of sex does not just impact women. For example, she argued on behalf of a man whose wife was in the Air Force, that he had been denied the housing benefits that were given to wives of men in the Air Force. Another case she argued was on behalf of a widower who had been denied the social security benefits that widows get, and that he needed to help raise his son. And in yet another important case, Reed v Reed in 1971, she persuaded the Supreme Court to apply the 14th Amendment's “equal protection under the law” to include descrimination on the basis of sex, however, this case had a female plaintiff.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed Ginsberg to the United States Court of Appeals, and in 1993, she was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton. She was approved by a Senate vote that was ninety-six to three. This made her the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court. She is well known for writing the majority opinion in the case United States vs. Virginia in 1996. She said that the state-sponsored Virginia Military Academy’s male-only policy violated the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. In general, Ginsberg tended to vote with the liberal judges, but she got along very well with the other judges.

In 2013, a law student at New York University gave her the name, "Notorious RBG”, based off of the name of the late rapper Notorious BIG. This, along with her dissenting opinions in many cases, made her a pop-culture icon. Until 2018 she never missed an oral argument.

Eight days after her death, on September 26, 2020, President Donald Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill her spot on the Supreme Court, despite the late Justice Ginsberg’s wishes. Judge Barrett had served in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit since 2017. She underwent four days of questions and hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee before their vote on the twenty-second of October. Democratic Senators boycotted the vote, but the Republican-led Senate voted anyway. Judge Barrett was confirmed on October 26, mostly along partisan lines, giving conservative-leaning judges a five-to-three majority on the Supreme Court, with Chief Justice John Roberts considered a swing vote, sometimes voting with the liberals and sometimes with the conservatives.. Judge Barrett’s confirmation is a pressing issue for women’s rights and racial justice advocates, as she takes her seat on the court just before major cases on abortion and voting rights come before the Supreme Court.

RBG was undeniably a champion of women's rights. It is time for a new generation to step up and continue her legacy and fight for equality for everyone.


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