Issue 12: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
by Melanie Gasmen-Fleck
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has spent over half a century defending women’s rights. It’s no wonder this feminist icon has been one of our most requested role models of all time. Justice Ginsburg has made legal leaps for gender equality and continues to be an advocate for women everywhere. She’s quick-witted, a nonstop hustler, and unafraid to speak her mind in a room full of opposing views.
We’re so thrilled that issue 12 is all about Ruth Bader Ginsburg! Bravery readers are in for one of our best issues yet. This one teaches kids how to use your voice for good, how to respect opinions, and most importantly, how to be a changemaker just like RBG! Read more about the Notorious RBG below.
Joan Ruth Bader was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Ruth’s parents taught her to appreciate learning, work hard for what she wanted, and speak up for what she believed in. She frequently studied, always excelling in her academics. When Ruth was 17 years old, her mother passed away from cancer—one day before Ruth’s high school graduation. Ruth was devastated but continued to exercise her independent mind.
She attended undergrad at Cornell University, where she met her future husband, Martin Ginsburg. Marty loved Ruth—and always saw her as an equal. Like Marty, Ruth wanted a job where she could help people. So, she decided to become a lawyer. Marty supported her dreams, despite the fact that only 3% of women were lawyers then, and men in the field didn’t want women in the legal profession.
They both attended Harvard Law School, where Ruth was just one of nine women in a class of over 500 men. While there, Ruth constantly faced sexism. For instance, men in the university complained about her learning alongside them and she was barred from entering parts of campus restricted to men.
Before studying law, Ruth and Marty had their first child. So during law school, Ruth had to adapt to the stressful life of a law student and the nonstop demands of motherhood. Then, in his third year of law school, Marty was diagnosed with cancer. Ruth dutifully stayed by his side and helped him with his work. She typed up his notes, read the cases from his classes, and took care of their daughter while staying on top of her own studies simultaneously. Ruth remained at the top of her class and became the first female to join the prestigious Harvard Law Review, a student-run journal.
When Marty got a job at a New York firm, Ruth transferred from Harvard to Columbia Law School and became the first female to join the Columbia Law Review. Even though Ruth graduated first in her class at Columbia, not a single New York City law firm would hire her solely because she was a woman. This sparked her aspiration to battle gender-based injustices for the rest of her life.
After clerking for a U.S. District Court judge, she taught at Rutgers University School of Law. She was one of the first female law professors in the country but still had to fight for equal pay herself. She taught gender law and ended up co-founding and advising the first law journal in the country that focused on women’s rights.
In 1972, Ruth co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Women’s Rights Project, which represented people who faced barriers because of their gender—especially poor women and women of color. That same year, she became a professor at Columbia’s School of Law, where she was the first woman to be hired with tenure.
While working with the ACLU, Ruth argued six cases before the Supreme Court and won five of them. One of these significant cases was 1973’s Frontiero v. Richardson, which decided that U.S. military benefits had to be given out equally, no matter the service member’s gender. This ruling helped protect the benefits of women and showed the world that all genders should be considered equal.
In 1993, President Clinton nominated Ruth as a Supreme Court Justice after she worked as a judge on the DC U.S. Court of Appeals for over a decade. She became the second woman to be a Supreme Court Justice and the first Jewish female. While in court, Ruth persistently echoed the importance of women’s rights. In 1996’s United States v. Virginia, she helped strike down a male-only admission policy at the Virginia Military Institute, the last all-male public university in the U.S.
While on the Supreme Court, Ruth has been widely recognized for her dissents—or opinions that go against the majority. One of her most famous dissents was during 2007’s Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., where the Supreme Court majority found the plaintiff’s gender-based pay discrimination suit not valid only because she didn’t file the lawsuit in time. Ruth’s dissent emphasized how gender discrimination operates, since it had taken years for the plaintiff to realize she wasn’t paid the same amount as her male coworkers. This case led to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which gives more time to file a lawsuit to those affected by pay discrimination. Among her other momentous acts, she was also the first Supreme Court Justice to officiate a same-sex marriage ceremony.
Ruth’s petite frame doesn’t speak to her extraordinary strength. She has beaten cancer four times throughout her life and didn’t miss a day on the Supreme Court bench, even while on chemotherapy.
Ruth continues to be a symbol of female empowerment, perseverance, and fearlessness. We are continuously inspired by and in admiration of her passion for gender equality and diversity. A woman’s world would not be what it is now without the progress she helped to carry out.
Image via Alamy. The Ruth Bader Ginsburg issue will be available Aug. 24, 2020. Want to get the Ruth issue first? Subscribe to Bravery.