“Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you,” Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United State of America.
President Bill Clinton nominated U.S. Appeals Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg on June 14, 1993, to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. She was confirmed by a vote of 96-3 and became the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court on August 10, 1993. Though her nomination became a confirmation in less than two months, it was in the first year of Clinton’s presidency, not against the backdrop of a presidential election. By the end of her long tenure, Ginsburg would be joined by two more women wearing the robes of the Supremes and she also became the lead voice of the court’s liberal minority.
Graduating first in her law class from Columbia University in 1959, the Notorious RBG would find New York’s legal community unwelcoming to a petite Jewish woman, so she began her legal career as a research associate, and she would later return to Columbia to become their first tenured female professor of law. In 1972, RBG co-founded the Women’s Rights Project within the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and became the Project’s, General Counsel. The Women’s Rights Project and ACLU brought or supported 300 legal actions and cases of gender discrimination by 1974. Ginsburg personally argued 6 of those cases before the U.S. Supreme Court between 1973 and 1976, winning five.
RBG chose her cases carefully, rather than seeking to ask the courts to end all discrimination at once, she strategically selected specific discriminatory statutes and policies, building on each successive victory and precedent. RBG at times picked male plaintiffs, to also demonstrate that gender discrimination was also harmful to men. Her legal advocacy focused also on careful word choice, favoring the use of “gender” versus “sex.”
Taken together, Ginsburg’s legal victories and precedents which resulted, have discouraged legislatures from making law which draws distinctions based on gender. In her last case as an attorney before the Supreme Court, Duren v. Missouri (1979), Ginsburg challenged a statute regarding voluntary jury duty for women, on the grounds that jury service was a citizen’s vital government responsibility and duty, and therefore should not be only voluntary for women.
President Jimmy Carter nominated RBG to the U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit in 1980. She served there until her elevation to the Supreme Court in 1993. During her tenure on the Court of Appeals, Ginsburg often found consensus with judicial colleagues on the circuit including conservatives Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia, her time on this court earned her a reputation as a moderate and cautious jurist.
Once on the Supreme Court, RBG would form among the closest of friendships with Justice Scalia, despite their differences of politics and interpretation of the law. The two justices frequently dined and attended opera together.
In 1996, and United States v. Virginia, RBG authored the court’s majority opinion, striking down the male-only admissions policy of Virginia Military Institute (VMI). Ginsburg’s opinion stated that the prestigious, state-run, military-inspired institution, could not use gender to deny women the opportunity to attend the university under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In 2009, and Herring v. the United States, RBG dissented from the court’s majority decision not to suppress evidence, due to a police officer’s failure to update a computer system. Contrasting with the majority opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, which emphasized evidence suppression as a mean to deter police misconduct, Ginsburg took a stronger view of suppression as a way to prevent the government from profiting from its own mistakes, and therefore as a remedy to respect civil rights and preserve judicial integrity.
I can think of no other U.S. Supreme Court Justice who has a line of dolls and toys named for her. Despite her diminutive stature, RBG is a legal giant in the minds of millions. Her soft voice and general demeanor belied strongly held core beliefs, coupled with the sensibility and temperament that winning a long war, like gender equality, required many strategic and well-chosen battles and victories to move the mountain of public opinion.
Loving my mother, both sisters, two daughters co-parented with strong mothers, twin nieces, and never having experienced the challenges or pleasures of childbirth, I have long believed women to be both the fairer and stronger sex, and I would like to thank Justice Ginsburg for maintaining equality for we men.
I can’t help but think as she ended her long battle with cancer and after losing her beloved partner and husband several years prior, she is probably smiling down on us from above, given the timing of her departure and transition. Even in death, still she persisted. God speed RBG.