Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on Friday, September 18, 2020, at the age of 87. Justice Ginsburg was celebrated widely for her quick wit, her passion for justice, and her fierce determination to defend and uphold the rights of women and men in the United States.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a five-time survivor of cancer and most recently suffered a reoccurrence earlier this year. This summer, she noted that it appeared the chemotherapy she received was working. She died surrounded by her family at her home in Washington, DC.
Chief Justice John Roberts issued a swift statement following the announcement of her death. “Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature. We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn, but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her — a tireless and resolute champion of justice.”
In recent years, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was crowned with the nickname “Notorious RBG,” and people around the world, especially women, often praised the justice for her work and her rulings (and definitely her dissents). In July 2020, RBG assured America she would remain on the Court as long as possible:
“I have often said I would remain a member of the Court as long as I can do the job full steam. I remain fully able to do that.”
Born on March 15, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York, RBG was the second child of Nathan and Celia Bader. She was raised in a working-class Jewish family that placed great emphasis on the importance of attending college. Her mother, Celia, didn’t have the opportunity to advance her own education and was instead made to work in a garment factory to fund her brother’s education. Ruth was inspired by the circumstances of her mother’s story and worked diligently throughout high school to make sure she could get into an excellent college. Sadly, Celia died before Ruth finished her secondary school studies.
Ruth earned her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in 1954 and finished right at the top of her class. She met and married her husband, Martin D. Ginsburg, the year she graduated. The pair fought through quite a few challenges during the early years of their marriage; Martin was drafted into the military right as their daughter, Jane, was born.
When Martin returned from active duty two years later, both he and Ruth enrolled in law school at Harvard.
The 1950s were not kind to a lot of people if you weren’t white and male, and that group definitely included women. As one of eight female students in a wholly male-dominated profession, while attending classes at a near-completely male-dominated school, Ruth and her classmates encountered misogyny and sexism from nearly every person they met. She somehow found a way to balance motherhood, law school, and the expectations that were put on her as a wife, and she even became the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.
Her home life was rocked again when her husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1956. Ruth took notes for herself and for her husband in class, an act of love that is famously depicted in the film On the Basis of Sex. Happily, Martin recovered, graduated, and accepted a job at a firm in New York.
The move meant Ruth needed to transfer to a Columbia Law School, which she did. She graduated top of her class in 1959.
Ruth went on to teach at both Rutgers University Law School and Columbia, and she became Columbia’s first female tenured professor. She also served as the director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, and she famously argued six landmark cases on gender equality in front of the Supreme Court of the United States.
President Jimmy Carter appointed Ruth to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1980, the first major step on her way toward her ultimate appointment to the Supreme Court. President William Clinton made the nomination in 1993, and Ruth was approved by the Senate with a vote of 96 to 3.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the most prominent member of the SCOTUS, serving nearly three decades as a justice. She weathered many a storm throughout her legendary tenure and proved herself a powerful advocate for the American people. While she is thought of as a very liberal judge, RBG was often a fan of caution.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was especially known for her positions on women’s reproductive rights, gender equality, the rights of workers, and her fierce protection of the separation of church and state. When Justice John Paul Stevens resigned, Ruth found herself as the most liberal member of the Supreme Court, a mantle she wore particularly well in recent years.
The loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg will reverberate around the country for years; the potential impact of her death may well be felt for decades to come. No one was more aware of this than Ruth herself; in the days before her death, she dictated a message to her granddaughter, Clara Spera: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be remembered for being many things; for a lot of people, she will most be remembered her unyielding feminism and her insistence on equality between men and women.
In 2005, she shared the advice she received from her mother. “My mother told me two things constantly: One was to be a lady, and the other was to be independent. The latter was something very unusual … because for most girls growing up in the 1940s, the most important degree was not your B.A., but your ‘M.R.S..'”