Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of nine women in her class of hundreds in Harvard Law School. She eventually went on to become the second woman to be elected into the Supreme Court.
She was often ridiculed for ”taking the place of a man’’ and her experiences are what led her to achieving a career that was dedicated to dismantling gender discrimination in the lives and workplaces of American women.
On Sept. 18, 2020, the world got to learn of the visionary’s passing from complications due to pancreatic cancer. Girls, women, and advocates of equality took the news as a personal loss. Ginsburg was remembered by Harvard Law School’s dean as an “inspiring and courageous human being”. She was remembered by the rest of the world as an icon, hero and champion.
The story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of perseverance and grit. She enrolled in Harvard Law School alongside her husband in 1956, as a new mother. When her husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer during their time in law school, she took notes for him to make sure he did not fall behind. She also excelled in her own classes.
She left in her second year and transferred to Columbia, where she graduated in 1959 at the top of her class, once again to follow and support her husband who had just accepted a job at a New York law firm.
Ginsburg was denied a Harvard degree, and even entry into a library once because she was female. Not only did she survive the discrimination, she thrived above it. In 2011, Harvard awarded Ginsburg with an honorary degree. In 2015, she was given Harvard’s Radcliffe Medal of recognition for being an individual who had transformed society.
As she began her career in law, she was turned down for clerkship by Supreme Court Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter, eventually securing clerkship with US District Judge Edmund L. Palmieri.
Over the years she continued to use her frustrations to pioneer equality, becoming a law professor and co-founder of the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. As chief litigator, she argued six discrimination cases before the Supreme court and won five. In 1993, she was appointed to the Supreme Court by Bill Clinton. Some of her most influential cases and decisions throughout her career include:
Her first brief written for the Supreme Court in 1971, she argued on behalf of a woman who has been denied by law from serving as the executor to her dead son’s estate. The role was only granted to her ex-husband. “The pedestal upon which women have been placed has all too often, upon closer inspection, been revealed as a cage,’’ she wrote. Ginsburg prevailed. The case marked the first time the court would strike down a law on the basis of gender discrimination.
This 1996 case is arguably her most important, striking down all-male military academies. The Virginia Military Academy argued that creating a separate academy for women fulfilled the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. In the seven to one majority opinion however, Ginsburg wrote that a male-only admissions policy is unconstitutional.
In this 1975 case, Ginsburg represented a man who had lost his wife during childbirth. He was denied Social Security benefits that only widows were entitled to, not widowers. The Supreme Court ruled in her favour.
In this 2007 case, Lilly Ledbetter accused Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company of gender discrimination, alleging that she was given a lower salary simply because she was a woman. Ledbetter lost but not because of merit. She failed to file her claim on time which is why the five to four majority ruled against her. Ginsburg called on lawmakers for a legislative fix and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was signed into law by President Obama in 2009.
This 1974 pregnancy discrimination suit of behalf on Jo Carol LaFleur and two other teachers alleged they have been forced to go on unpaid leave after the fifth month of their pregnancies. As chief litigator of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, she signed an amicus brief in support of teachers, which prevailed at the Supreme Court. Her words still serve as important precedent for pregnant employees and their right to work.
Until her last days, Ginsburg worked with a trainer in the Supreme Court’s exercise room, she never missed a day of oral arguments even while undergoing chemotherapy, after surgery for colon cancer, or the day after her husband passed in 2010. She made it clear early on that she would never let her circumstances or health get in the way of her goals. In her words, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”