The Notorious RBG

The Life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg

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Aya Kasim, Editor-in-Chief

On September 18, 2020, the country received a shock to the core of its identity. Ripples of grief reaching each generation were felt with the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Students today, more politically aware than those before, saw RBG as a constant, a small yet booming voice of justice that began long before our time. As we look back on her 87 years of life, 40 in  public service, and 27 of which on the Supreme Court, we witness how legends come to be.

RBG was into a low-income family born on March 15, 1933. Growing up in a time of vast discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, and sex, RBG witnessed injustice, but never retreated into submission. Alongside the the Civil Rights movement, RBG would make her own waves with a life long stance against gender-based discrimination.

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RBG noted that the root of her resilience was her mother, Celia Bader–a intelligent woman who had given up her own college education to fund her brother’s. RBG recalled, “My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.”

After excelling in high school, RBG went on to attend Cornell University and graduate first in her class in 1954. That same year, she married Martin D. Ginsberg, her life-long partner and “the first boy I ever knew who cared that I had a brain,” Ginsberg famously stated.

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The years following their graduation, RBG had to face some of her greatest challenges: becoming a mother, holding down home fort when Marty was drafted into the military, succeeding in the male-dominated and unwelcoming environment of Harvard Law School, and caring for Marty when he was disguised with testicular cancer.

At Harvard, RBG was 1 out of only 8 women in a class of 500. Once, at a dinner with the dean, these women were asked, “Why are you at Harvard Law School, taking the place of a man?” RBG resented such a question and went on to prove her place by becoming the first female member of the Harvard Law Review. She soon after transferred to Columbia Law School to be closer to Marty and further earned respect by graduating first in her class once again. 

RBG continued on to become a clerk, professor, and women’s rights lawyer. Arguing six major cases on gender equality before the Supreme Court, she stood for efforts ranging from equal pay and protecting pregnant women to father’s rights and paternity leave.

Family and equality in the household were exemplified in her work and personal life. RBG’s relationship with Marty was often considered an equal partnership. She supported him through college and his early work and, later on, he recognized the importance of her goals and similarly became the support. Traditional gender roles had no presence in their relationship as Marty was a fantastic cook and RBG was definitely not. When he passed away on June 27, 2010, The High Court published a cookbook of his recipes as a tribute. 

After spending 13 years on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, RBG became the second woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993. She was a surprisingly moderate voice, but spoke with fire in her breath through her famous dissents.

Over the years, an opera about RBG’s friendship with conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and six movies that included RBG’s work were made, two of which were based on her life completely. Prominent in popular culture, she became a woman adored by the people. She was given the nickname, “Notorious RBG”  in the mid-2010s, referencing the Notorious BIG as both were born in Brooklyn.

“I am a very lucky woman, starting with my dear spouse, and my family,” RGB stated in an interview with CNN. “Two children, beautiful music, I love the work I do. I respect all of my colleagues and genuinely like them, most of the time.”

RBG often mentioned the close relations and respect Justices of the court had for each other. And though she sometimes disagreed with some, she often disagreed with Justice Antonin Scalia. However, that did not stop a beautiful friendship. 

 “I loved Scalia, but I could have strangled him,” RBG joked.

With bipartisan spirit, the two showed how people can and must come together despite political disagreement.

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“She is a tigress on civil procedure,” Scalia told Reuters.com. “She will take a lawyer who is making a ridiculous argument and just shake him like a dog with a bone. She has done more to shape the law in this field than any other justice on this court.”

RBG was born in a time when women were not allowed to do much without the permission of a husband or father. In her 87 years, she led a movement to reform that. 

“What is the difference between a bookkeeper in the garment district and a supreme court justice?” RBG asked. “One generation–my mother’s life and mine.”

RBG continued the work of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton so as today we can continue hers. At home, at school, at work, and in government her efforts are there. Allow them to inspire you. Thank you Ruth Bader Ginsberg. 

 

Works Cited

CNN. Ruth Bader Ginsburg: My Life on the Supreme Court. 12 Feb. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuB4vr6Elok&list=WL&index=3.  Accessed 8 Oct. 2020. 

 

“Remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg | NYT News.” Youtube.com, New York Times, 18 Sept. 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRlEFT-44Ik&list=WL&index=4. Accessed 8 Oct. 2020. 

 

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 28 Sept. 2020, www.biography.com/law-figure/ruth-bader-ginsburg.   

 

Stevens, Heidi. Column: ‘Why Are You at Harvard Law School?’ Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Life Is a Lesson for Anyone Made to Feel They Don’t Belong. 21 Sept. 2020, www.chicagotribune.com/columns/heidi-stevens/ct-heidi-stevens-ruth-bader-ginsburg-life-lesson-about-power-0921-20200921-pvewhkpwrfawvaqgqwcyxsc4ye-story.html. Accessed 8 Oct. 2020