Notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Achievements

A lifetime of advocacy and achievement leaves big shoes to fill on Supreme Court

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as pictured in, “The RBG Legacy: Equality and Inspiration”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, died on September 18, 2020 at the age of 87. She was known for being an advocate for minorities, specifically women’s rights.

Born on March 15, 1933, Ginsburg’s birth name was Joan Ruth Bader. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Her older sister, Marylin, died at six years old from meningitis when Ginsburg was just a baby.

As for how her name changed from Joan, when she first started school, her mother found that a number of girls in her class were also named Joan. She suggested to her teacher that her daughter be called Ruth instead.

From a young age, Ginsburg had to deal with discrimination. She wasn’t allowed to go certain places because she was Jewish, which was an outrage to her. She was treated differently than the boys because she was a girl, which also annoyed her.

Ginsburg graduated from James Madison High School at 15 years old, suggesting that she was a bright young woman. Even though she wanted to, she wasn’t able to continue with her education because her family had chosen to send her brother to college instead. This disappointed Celia, her mother, because she was hoping that her daughter would become a high school history teacher.  Celia struggled with cancer throughout Ginsburg’s high school experience and, unfortunately, lost her fight with the disease the very day before her daughter’s high school graduation.

Ginsburg was eventually able to attend Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and met Martin D. Ginsburg at age 17. She graduated from Cornell with a Bachelor of Arts degree in government on June 23, 1954, and held the honor of being the highest-ranking female student in her graduating class.

She married Martin D. Ginsburg a month after her graduation, and they moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma to start their life together. She was now known as Ruth Bader Ginsburg. At age 21, Ginsburg got a job working for the Social Security Administration office in Oklahoma, but was unfortunately demoted after becoming pregnant with her first child. The pregnancy made Ruth and Martin’s marriage challenging, since their child, a girl named Jane, was born soon after Martin Ginsburg was drafted into the military in 1954. He served two years before deciding to attend Harvard Law School.

In the fall of 1956, Ginsburg enrolled at Harvard Law School, where she was one of just nine women in a class of 500 men. On top of school, she was also taking notes for her husband since he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer and needed rest. On top of that, she had a daughter to take care of. It was a busy time for Ginsburg. 

When her husband recovered from the deadly illness and went for a job in New York City and got it, she transferred over to Columbia Law School and was the first woman to be on two important/major law reviews: Columbia Law Review and The Harvard Law Review. In 1959, Ginsburg earned her law degree and tied with one other person for first in her class, another great achievement.

Pullquote Photo

(Justice Ginsburg) was laid in state in the Capitol and is the first woman and second Supreme Court Justice to have this honor, yet another achievement that she has earned even after her death.”

— Grayci Branam, KNWeb Reporter

Ginsburg had a rough start to her legal career. Despite having an academic record that proved she went above and beyond in school, she was rejected a law clerkship position in 1960 due to her gender. This rejection occurred despite a strong letter of recommendation written by Albert Martin Sacks, a professor and soon-to-be dean of Harvard Law School, and plenty more recommendations from men of high positions. But later that same year, Ginsburg started a clerkship for Judge Palmieri and kept the job for two years.

Ginsburg experienced many unfair and unfortunate drawbacks during her career. She worked as a professor at Rutgers Law School in 1963 and was denied the same pay as her male colleagues because her husband had a well-paying job. In 1970, Ginsburg co-founded the Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the very first law journal in the U.S. to focus only on women’s rights. She served as the director of the project, along with the American Civil Liberties Union.

In 1980, she was appointed by President Carter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. She served there until she was appointed by President Clinton to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993 to fill the seat that had been vacated by Justice Byron White. Clinton said that he wanted a replacement with the “political skills to deal with the more conservative members of the Court,” according to Ginsburg fought hard for the rights of workers, gender equality, and the separation of church and state. In 1999, she won the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award for her contributions towards civil rights and gender equality.

On June 27, 2010, Martin Ginsburg died of cancer at the age of 78. In a story on, his wife described him as “the only man I dated who cared that I had a brain.” The two were married for 56 long years. They were said to be complete opposites, Mr. Ginsburg being outgoing and an entertainer, and Mrs. Ginsburg was more shy and serious. She went right back to work the day after her husband’s death.

In 2016, Ginsburg published a memoir titled My Own Words that was filled to the brim with her writings that went back as far as her junior year in high school. The book became a New York Times bestseller. In January of 2018, Ginsburg made an appearance at the Sundance Film Festival to see the premiere of the documentary RBG, a film about her life. 

After being appointed to the bench, Ginsburg had suffered from colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, and lung cancer. In November 2018, she was hospitalized after falling in her office and fracturing three ribs. In July 2020, Ginsburg revealed that she was undergoing chemotherapy for cancerous tumors on her liver, a spread of the pancreatic cancer that kept coming back no matter how many times she managed to get rid of it.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on September 18, 2020, at her home in Washington D.C. from complications of pancreatic cancer. The United States mourns her death and she will surely not be forgotten. She was laid in state in the Capitol and is the first woman and second Supreme Court Justice to have this honor, yet another achievement that she has earned even after her death.

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