On Sept. 18th 2020, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died of complications from pancreatic cancer. The longtime advocate for women’s and civil rights will be remembered for her toughness while on the Supreme Court (even in her old age) but mostly for the work she did in her younger years.
Born in New York on March 13th, 1933, Ginsburg eventually became the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court. And, although she battled cancer for many years, she missed almost no time from the bench. Bill Clinton nominated her to be the 107th Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993.
Background of Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg
Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg had always been in love with the law. In 1963, she started working as a Law Professor at Rutgers, and taught a Gender and Law Course, something that was influenced by her students at the time. It was during those years that she started dealing with sex discrimination cases.
Ginsburg ended up winning five out of the six cases that she argued in front of the Supreme Court. When it came to laws in the 1970’s that restricted women, she felt closely related to what American females were going through when it came to equal rights. Ginsburg was personally discriminated against upon her graduation from Harvard, being turned down from law firm after law firm upon her graduation from Harvard, even though she was the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.
Marching and demonstrating wasn’t her thing, being that she was shy and reserved by nature. And, although she was small in stature, Ginsburg knew what her strengths were. If a case that had to do with sex discimination and/or a blatant violation of civil rights was on its way to the Supreme Court, then she wanted to take that case over if it had a chance to create a good law.
Ginsburg wanted to follow in the footsteps of Thurgood Marshall (the first African-American Supreme Court Justice), and viewed the clause of the Constitution that guarantees equal protection under the law the same way he did. She wanted equal protection for women in particular, and brought the same tenacity to the issues of sexism in the 1970’s as activists in the 1950’s did for the civil rights of African-Americans.
In the 1970’s laws against women were horrible. For example, employers in most states could legally fire a woman simply for being pregnant. Banks back then actually had the right to require a woman applying for credit to have her husband co-sign. Even marital rape was hardly ever prosecuted.
The first case that Ginsburg argued in front of the Supreme Court was Frontiero v Richardson. Sharron Frontiero was a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force, and she realized quickly after getting there that married men that she worked with got a housing allowance and she didn’t receive, simply because she was a woman. Ginsburg won this landmark case, and because of that win the military cannot hold back benefits from a person simply because of their sex.
But, Ginsburg was fighting not only for women, but for sex discrimination against men as well. In 1977 she fought the Supreme Court case Califano v Goldfarb. It involved a man named Leo Goldfarb, whose wife died while giving birth to their child in 1968. Even though she’d worked for the New York Public School system for over two decades, he couldn’t receive any benefits, help that would have been given to his wife if he had died, but that he could receive simply because he was a man. Ginsburg represented him, won the case, and now when it comes to receiving benefits widowers can’t be discriminated against because of sex.
Other historical cases Ruth Bader Ginsburg influenced were Edwards v Healy in 1975 (where Ginsburg challenged Louisiana law allowing women to opt out of jury service) and the United States v Virginia in 1996 (where the justice department challenged the exclusion of women from the Virginia Military Institute).
The Notorious RBG
Ginsburg was given the nickname “The Notorious R.B.G.” by today’s younger generation, who very well recognize how much of an impact she was on many of the laws we enjoy today. The name is of course closely similar to the late Brooklyn rapper, The Notorious B.I.G.
She was once asked at a conference did she realize where the nickname came from. “People would ask me if I felt uncomfortable with being called that,” Ginsburg said, “and I would say ‘Why would I feel uncomfortable? We have so much in common…”
The crowd was tickled at her response, with her being well into her 80’s at the time of the question. She and Biggie were both born in Brooklyn, and this generation gave her the name because of her notorious nature. She even would give out Notorious RBG shirts to her friends! You can learn so much about her life from the 2018 documentary entitled RBG.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg will be missed not only for her strength, determination and longevity, but for the many ways she has changed the way America views sexism and civil rights forever.