History Podcasts

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg


We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the second female justice of the U.S. Born in 1933 in Brooklyn, New York, Bader taught at Rutgers University Law School and then at Columbia University, where she became its first female tenured professor. She served as the director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union during the 1970s, and was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1980. Named to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, she continued to argue for gender equality in such cases as United States v. Virginia. She died September 18, 2020 due to complications from metastatic pancreas cancer.

READ MORE: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice, Dies at 87

Early Life

Ruth Joan Bader, the second daughter of Nathan and Cecelia Bader grew up in a low-income, working class neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Ginsburg's family was Jewish. Ginsburg’s mother, a major influence in her life, taught her the value of independence and a good education.

Cecelia herself did not attend college, but instead worked in a garment factory to help pay for her brother’s college education, an act of selflessness that forever impressed Ginsburg. At James Madison High School in Brooklyn, Ginsburg worked diligently and excelled in her studies.

Her mother struggled with cancer throughout Ginsburg’s high school years, and died the day before Ginsburg’s graduation.

Bader graduated from Cornell University in 1954, finishing first in her class. She married Martin D. Ginsburg, also a law student, that same year.

The early years of their marriage were challenging, as their first child, Jane, was born shortly after Martin was drafted into the military in 1954. He served for two years and, after his discharge, the couple returned to Harvard where Ginsburg also enrolled.

At Harvard, Ginsburg learned to balance life as a mother and her new role as a law student. She also encountered a very male-dominated, hostile environment, with only eight females in her class of 500.

The women were chided by the law school’s dean for taking the places of qualified males. But Ginsburg pressed on and excelled academically, eventually becoming a member of the prestigious legal journal, the Harvard Law Review.

Arguing for Gender Equality

Then, another challenge: Martin contracted testicular cancer in 1956, requiring intensive treatment and rehabilitation. Ginsburg attended to her young daughter and convalescing husband, taking notes for him in classes while she continued her own law studies.

Martin recovered, graduated from law school, and accepted a position at a New York law firm. Ginsburg transferred to Columbia Law School in New York City to join her husband, where she was elected to the school’s law review. She graduated first in her class in 1959.

Despite her outstanding academic record, however, Ginsburg continued to encounter gender discrimination while seeking employment after graduation. After clerking for U.S. District Judge Edmund L. Palmieri, she taught at Rutgers University Law School (1963-72) and at Columbia (1972-80), where she became the school’s first female tenured professor.

During the 1970s, she also served as the director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), for which she argued six landmark cases on gender equality before the U.S. Supreme Court.

However, she also believed that the law was gender-blind and all groups were entitled to equal rights. One of the five cases she won before the Supreme Court involved a portion of the Social Security Act that favored women over men because it granted certain benefits to widows but not widowers.

On the Supreme Court

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. She served there until she was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, selected to fill the seat vacated by Justice Byron White.

President Clinton wanted a replacement with the intellect and political skills to deal with the more conservative members of the Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings were unusually friendly, despite frustration expressed by some senators over Ginsburg’s evasive answers to hypothetical situations.

Several expressed concern over how she could transition from social advocate to Supreme Court Justice. In the end, she was easily confirmed by the Senate, 96-3. Ginsburg became the court's second female justice as well as the first Jewish female justice.

As a judge, Ginsburg was considered part of the Supreme Court’s moderate-liberal bloc, presenting a strong voice in favor of gender equality, the rights of workers and the separation of church and state.

In 1996, Ginsburg wrote the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in United States v. Virginia, which held that the state-supported Virginia Military Institute could not refuse to admit women. In 1999, she won the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award for her contributions to gender equality and civil rights.

READ MORE: Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Landmark Opinions on Women's Rights

Legacy

Despite her reputation for restrained writing, she gathered considerable attention for her dissenting opinion in the case of Bush v. Gore, which effectively decided the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

Objecting to the court’s majority opinion favoring Bush, Ginsburg deliberately and subtly concluded her decision with the words, “I dissent” a significant departure from the tradition of including the adverb “respectfully.”

On June 27, 2010, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s husband, Martin, died of cancer. She described Martin as her biggest booster and “the only young man I dated who cared that I had a brain.”

Married for 56 years, as a couple, they were said to be quite different: Martin was gregarious, loved to entertain and tell jokes while Ruth was serious, soft-spoken and shy. Martin provided a reason for their successful union: “My wife doesn’t give me any advice about cooking and I don’t give her any advice about the law.”

After 27 years serving as a justice on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18, 2020 due to complications from metastatic pancreas cancer.


How Jewish History and the Holocaust Fueled Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Quest for Justice

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of eight Jewish justices ever to serve on the Supreme Court. Ginsburg, who died Friday as Jews around the world began celebrating Rosh Hashanah, spoke about her Jewish identity and the horrifying history of anti-Semitism in a 2004 speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Here are her full remarks.

I had the good fortune to be a Jew born and raised in the U.S.A. My father left Odessa bound for the New World in 1909, at age 13 my mother was first in her large family to be born here, in 1903, just a few months after her parents and older siblings landed in New York. What is the difference between a bookkeeper in New York&rsquos garment district and a Supreme Court Justice? Just one generation, my mother&rsquos life and mine bear witness. Where else but America could that happen?

My heritage as a Jew and my occupation as a judge fit together symmetrically. The demand for justice runs through the entirety of Jewish history and Jewish tradition. I take pride in and draw strength from my heritage, as signs in my chambers attest: a large silver mezuzah on my door post, [a] gift from the Shulamith School for Girls in Brooklyn on three walls, in artists&rsquo renditions of Hebrew letters, the command from Deuteronomy: &ldquoZedek, zedek, tirdof&rdquo &mdash &ldquoJustice, justice shall you pursue.&rdquo Those words are ever-present reminders of what judges must do that they &ldquomay thrive.&rdquo

But today, here in the Capitol, the lawmaking heart of our nation, in close proximity to the Supreme Court, we remember in sorrow that Hitler&rsquos Europe, his Holocaust kingdom, was not lawless. Indeed, it was a kingdom full of laws, laws deployed by highly educated people &mdash teachers, lawyers, and judges &mdash to facilitate oppression, slavery and mass murder. We convene to say &ldquoNever again,&rdquo not only to Western history&rsquos most unjust regime, but also to a world in which good men and women, abroad and even in the U.S.A., witnessed or knew of the Holocaust kingdom&rsquos crimes against humanity, and let them happen.

The world&rsquos failure to stop the atrocities of the Third Reich was perhaps nowhere more apparent than in Hungary, where the Holocaust descended late in the war. But when it came, it advanced with brutal speed. Hungary was the first country in Europe to adopt an anti-Jewish law after World War I, a short-lived measure that restricted the admission of Jews to institutions of higher learning. In the main, however, that nation&rsquos 800,000 Jews lived free from terror until 1944. Although 63,000 Hungarian Jews lost their lives before the German occupation &mdash most of them during forced service, under dreadful conditions, in labor battalions &mdash Hungary&rsquos leaders staved off German demands to carry out the Final Solution until March 19, 1944, when Hitler&rsquos troops occupied the country.

Then, overnight, everything changed. Within three and a half months of the occupation, 437,000 Hungarian Jews were deported. Four trains a day, each transporting up to 3,000 people packed together like freight, left Hungary for Auschwitz, where most of the passengers were methodically murdered. This horrendous time is chronicled unforgettably by Hungarian Holocaust survivors and Nobel Prize winners Elie Wiesel, today&rsquos lead speaker, and Imre Kertész, in their captivating works, &ldquoNight&rdquo and &ldquoFateless.&rdquo


Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsberg faced many challenges to become a lawyer. In 1956, she was one of only nine women at Harvard Law School (out of 500 students!). She and her female classmates were even banned from using one of the libraries on campus. But that didn’t stop her from following her dream—which led her to become the first Jewish person and second woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court—the highest court in the country.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg sits in her chambers at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002, nine years after she became the first Jewish person and the second woman to be appointed to the high court.

Joan Ruth Bader was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 15, 1933. Many girls in her school were also called Joan, so she decided to go by her middle name.

The future Supreme Court justice at two years old

Ruth’s parents did not go to college. But they knew that education was important and encouraged her to learn as much as she could. She studied government while on a scholarship at Cornell University, then enrolled at Harvard Law School two years after she married her husband, Martin “Marty” Ginsburg, in 1954. After he graduated, the family moved to New York City, and Ginsburg transferred to Columbia Law School, where she graduated in 1959.

At that time, many women did not work outside their homes, and some men believed that women weren’t as capable as men to work for pay. So even though Ginsburg graduated from law school with top grades, she couldn’t find a job as a lawyer. Instead, she became a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. When students asked her to teach a class on how women were treated under the law, Ginsburg discovered some unfair practices—for instance, some working mothers weren't provided health insurance by their companies, even though their male coworkers were. This helped fuel her interest in fighting for women’s equality.

In 1972, Ginsburg became the first female faculty member at Columbia Law School.

While she was teaching at Rutgers, Ginsburg found out that she was being paid less than male professors. Then she found out that other women were being paid less, too! She and her female colleagues demanded equal pay from the university—and they got it.

Soon Ginsburg was fighting many cases in court to help people who were being treated unfairly because of their gender—for instance, she won a case to allow pregnant women and women with children to serve in the military. Then in 1972, she helped start the Women’s Rights Project for the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization that argues for fair treatment of all U.S. citizens. Through this project, Ginsburg won five out of six gender equality cases in front of the Supreme Court.

Now people were thinking about Ginsburg whenever they thought about equal protection for women under the law. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals (the court that hears cases from lower courts when people don’t agree with the decision). Then on August 10, 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Ginsburg to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ginsburg (first row, second from right) sits with the current justices of the U.S. Supreme Court in November 2018.

Ginsburg was one of nine Supreme Court justices, and many times she disagreed with their decisions. But she wrote very powerful statements whenever she disagreed, called a dissenting opinion, and soon she earned the nickname the “Great Dissenter.”

Sometimes those statements led to Congress passing new laws. One time in 2007, the Supreme Court heard a case from a woman named Lily Ledbetter who discovered she was being paid less than her male co-workers. Most of the Supreme Court justices said she had waited too long to come to court, and Ledbetter lost her case. But because of Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion, Congress passed a law two years later changing those time limits—and therefore giving women more protection.

Ginsburg loved to excercise at 83 years old, she said she still did 20 push-ups a day!


November 2018: lung cancer

After suffering a fall in her office, tests confirmed that Ginsburg had fractured three ribs on her left side, the Court said. Doctors once again stumbled upon something more serious: lung cancer. More specifically, two cancerous nodules in her left lung. In December 2018, the 85-year-old Justice underwent a pulmonary lobectomy, an operation in which a single lobe (a.k.a. section) in the lung is removed. The right lung is composed of three lobes, while the left has two.

Her surgery went smoothly, and the Court confirmed &ldquothere was no evidence of any remaining disease&rdquo or &ldquoevidence of disease elsewhere in the body.&rdquo This time around, she did miss a few weeks of work as she recovered.


Read the Full Transcript

Judy Woodruff:

Finally tonight: Ruth Bader Ginsburg had made legal history in academia starting in her 20s, then worked her way through the legal ranks and became a Supreme Court justice at age 60.

But, when she was in her 80s, something new happened. She became a pop culture icon.

Jeffrey Brown has our look for our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Jeffrey Brown:

Appropriate for the age of social media, the cultural stardom of Ruth Bader Ginsburg began in 2013 with a Tumblr account, the Notorious RBG, a takeoff on the well-known rapper the Notorious B.I.G.

It was the creation of then-NYU Law student Shana Knizhnik, inspired by a powerful Ginsburg dissent defending voting rights.

Shana Knizhnik:

The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg": Justice Ginsburg's words were sort of this beacon of hope and a call to action to those us who cared about those issues.

Jeffrey Brown:

Knizhnik would co-author a "Notorious RBG" book, and get to know the justice herself, who even presided at Knizhnik's marriage.

The power of the cultural symbol, she says, spoke especially to young people.

Shana Knizhnik:

Particularly young women don't have that many examples of older women who have achieved the sort of status that she had achieved, but more so who had experienced discrimination herself, and then turned around and actually fought that discrimination.

So, I think the intergenerational aspect of the Notorious RBG phenomenon is something that I always was extremely proud of.

Jeffrey Brown:

Once unleashed, the legend of RBG only grew.

Here now to comment is Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Jeffrey Brown:

Solidified in the larger cultural landscape by Kate McKinnon on "Saturday Night Live."

Her Ginsburg singed opponents with the Gins-burn.

Kate McKinnon:

That's a third-degree Gins-burn.

Jeffrey Brown:

The phenomenon was captured in the 2018 documentary "RBG" co-directed by Betsy West.

It was so incongruous in some ways.

Here is this tiny, shy elderly woman, very retiring, serious person, and yet there was something true at the core of Notorious RBG. I mean, she was standing up, she was strong, she was powerful.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

I am 84 years old, and everyone wants to take a picture with me.

Jeffrey Brown:

The joke doesn't work unless there's a kernel of truth there, right?

Exactly. That's what made it funny and I think gave it the power to just launch her as a superstar.

Jeffrey Brown:

T-shirts, tattoos, and bobble-head dolls, real-life babies and an 8-year-old dressed as her superhero.

The documentary was followed by a film dramatization of her life, "On the Basis of Sex," with Felicity Jones ones as Ginsburg.

Felicity Jones:

Stephen Colbert:

Let's get shredded. Let's get stupid strong.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Jeffrey Brown:

Ginsburg herself seemed to enjoy the ride.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Stephen Colbert:

Jeffrey Brown:

Allowing Stephen Colbert to join in her by then famous workout routine.

Stephen Colbert:

I'm cramping, and I'm working out with an 85-year-old woman.

Jeffrey Brown:

Which, by the way, the "RBG" documentary revealed was done while she watched the "NewsHour."

Stephen Colbert:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Stephen Colbert:

Jeffrey Brown:

And she had fun with the pop culture tie to rap music, though it was not her genre. In 2016, she talked with our late colleague Gwen Ifill.

You ever consider being a rapper?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

I don't think I have that talent.

Jeffrey Brown:

Ginsburg, says Betsy West, saw the RBG character as a way to reach more people.

She saw it as an opportunity to spread her message, her ideas about our Constitution, about equal rights, about the 14th Amendment.

Here was a way to spread that message to a lot of people who really don't pay much attention to what's going on in the Supreme Court.

Jeffrey Brown:

Ginsburg was not only loved by the culture she loved it back. She was a lifelong and constant theatergoer, often greeting cast and crew backstage.

Her greatest passion was opera, shared with her close friend and fierce ideological opponent on the court Antonin Scalia.

Francesca Zambello :

She was, in that sense, I say, really our greatest fan.

Jeffrey Brown:

Francesca Zambello is artistic director of the Washington National Opera, and a longtime friend of Ginsburg's.

Francesca Zambello:

RBG was notorious for her love of opera. I think that it was the thing that gave her relief from her incredible pursuit of so many important issues.

But, also, she was very outspoken about the arts in general, and particularly opera. There is just no way that opera would reach the amount of people that it tries to reach without having a spokesperson like her explaining why the stories and the music and the characters were so important today, just as they were at the time that things were composed.

Jeffrey Brown:

She became a subject of opera in composer Derrick Wang's 2015 work "Scalia/Ginsburg," inspired by the opinions of the two justices, and then a participant, when the justice herself appeared on stage in Donizetti's "The Daughter of the Regiment."

Francesca Zambello:

There's a small speaking role in the second act where there's basically a marriage contract being brokered.

And I asked her if she would like to do it. And she willingly said yes. But she asked me, could I rewrite the text? And I said, if that's your only condition, sign on the dotted line. And so she rewrote the text. And it was very, very funny.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

The most valorous Krakenthorpians have been women.

Jeffrey Brown:

In recent days, images and reflections have poured in from other cultural figures.

Natalie Maines, lead singer of the band The Chicks, told us her thoughts about a woman she saw as a fellow strong chick.

Natalie Maines:

I just love how she just never stopped. She just, I think, lived a great life and lived a genuine life and made a huge impact on democracy.

I have got her sticker on my oven.

Jeffrey Brown:

Natalie Maines:

I do, yes. So, she is an icon, for sure.

Jeffrey Brown:

An icon and role model for many, and it's continued since her death, with new signs of her impact touching the cultural life in the America of 2020:, the lace, or jabot, collar she loved to wear now added to the Fearless Girl Statue in New York, masks in a time of pandemic, and a large mural painted on a Washington, D.C., wall now a gathering spot to remember RBG.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown.

Judy Woodruff:

And you have got to love every bit of it. Just love that piece.

And tomorrow night, we will present a prime-time "PBS NewsHour" special, "RBG: Her Legacy and the Court's Future."


Noteworthy cases

The noteworthy cases listed in this section include any case where the justice authored a 5-4 majority opinion or a 1-8 dissent. Other cases may be included in this decision if they set or overturn an established legal precedent, are a major point of discussion in an election campaign, receive substantial media attention related to the justice's ruling, or based on our editorial judgment that the case is noteworthy. For more on how we decide which cases are noteworthy, click here.

Since she joined the court through the 2019 term, Ginsburg authored the majority opinion in a 5-4 decision 21 times and authored a dissent in an 8-1 decision nine times. The table below details these cases by year. ⎘]

Ruth Bader Ginsburg noteworthy cases
Year 5-4 majority opinion 8-1 dissenting opinion
Total 21 9
2019 0 1
2018 1 0
2017 1 0
2016 0 0
2015 0 1
2014 2 0
2013 0 0
2012 1 0
2011 0 3
2010 2 1
2009 1 0
2008 2 1
2007 0 1
2006 0 0
2005 1 0
2004 0 0
2003 2 0
2002 1 0
2001 1 0
2000 0 1
1999 0 0
1998 0 0
1997 0 0
1996 0 0
1995 1 0
1994 3 0
1993 2 0

Supreme court opinions

Racial gerrymandering (2018)

Ginsburg authored a 5-4 majority opinion in this case ruling that the state House, helmed by Republicans, lacked standing to appeal a lower court order striking down the original legislative district plan as a racial gerrymander. Ginsburg was joined in the majority by Justices Thomas, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Gorsuch. Ginsburg wrote:

The House lacks standing to represent the State’s interests. The State itself had standing to press this appeal, see Diamond v. Charles, 476 U. S. 54, 62, and could have designated agents to do so, Hollingsworth, 570 U. S., at 710. However, the State did not designate the House to represent its interests here. Under Virginia law, authority and responsibility for representing the State’s interests in civil litigation rest exclusively with the State’s Attorney General. . Throughout this litigation, the House has purported to represent only its own interests. The House thus lacks authority to displace Virginia’s Attorney General as the State’s representative. . In short, the State of Virginia would rather stop than fight on. One House of its bicameral legislature cannot alone continue the litigation against the will of its partners in the legislative process. ⎙] ⎚]

Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows employers to deny contraception coverage to employees (2014)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the dissenting opinion writer in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The case focused on the ability of a corporation, Hobby Lobby, to deny access to birth control options to their employees as mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on the grounds of religious beliefs. The court ruled 5-4 to allow Hobby Lobby to restrict forms of contraceptives that were mandated by the ACA. Ginsburg said,

In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs. ⎛] ⎚]

Ginsburg went on to discuss cases that demonstrated the purpose of incorporation was to separate one's personal life from the possible threats that come with owning a business. She wrote:

In a sole proprietorship, the business and its owners are one and the same. By incorporating a business, however, an individual separates herself from the entity and escapes personal responsibility for the entity's obligations. One might ask why the separation should hold only when it serves the interests of those who control the corporation. ⎛] ⎚]

In conclusion, Justice Ginsburg addressed the majority's opinion in arguing that the court's ruling should be limited to the contraceptive mandate and that it laid no precedent for lower courts to follow. She raised the question of where the courts will draw the line when it came to the mandate when religious objections can be found in blood transfusions, antidepressants, and vaccinations. ⎛]

Female employee's Title VII workplace discrimination claims time-barred (2007)

A Goodyear employee, Lilly Ledbetter, filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that her pay and position were lower than her male colleagues and that the discrepancy violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Ledbetter presented evidence from nearly 20 years working for Goodyear and said that in the final year of her employment with Goodyear, she made approximately $15,000 less than the lowest-paid male employee holding the same managerial title. A jury ruled in Ledbetter's favor, and she was awarded $360,000 in back pay and damages. Goodyear filed a motion to vacate the judgment, arguing that Ledbetter was prevented under the Civil Rights Act from challenging pay decisions going back beyond 180 days. The district court denied Goodyear's motion, but the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed The action of an appellate court overturning a lower court's decision. , holding "that the jury could only examine Ledbetter's career for evidence of discrimination as far back as the last annual salary review before the start of the 180-day limitations period." As there was no evidence of discrimination in those reviews, Ledbetter's claim was dismissed. ⎜]

On appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, a five-justice majority upheld the Eleventh Circuit's ruling. The court held that Ledbetter's claim was time-barred by Title VII's limitations period. In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that the court's interpretation of Title VII was not correct. She wrote,

To show how far the Court has strayed from interpretation of Title VII with fidelity to the Act’s core purpose, I return to the evidence Ledbetter presented at trial. Ledbetter proved to the jury the following: She was a member of a protected class she performed work substantially equal to work of the dominant class (men) she was compensated less for that work and the disparity was attributable to gender-based discrimination. . Yet, under the Court’s decision, the discrimination Ledbetter proved is not redressable under Title VII. Each and every pay decision she did not immediately challenge wiped the slate clean. Consideration may not be given to the cumulative effect of a series of decisions that, together, set her pay well below that of every male area manager. Knowingly carrying past pay discrimination forward must be treated as lawful conduct. Ledbetter may not be compensated for the lower pay she was in fact receiving when she complained to the EEOC. Nor, were she still employed by Goodyear, could she gain, on the proof she presented at trial, injunctive relief requiring, prospectively, her receipt of the same compensation men receive for substantially similar work. The Court’s approbation of these consequences is totally at odds with the robust protection against workplace discrimination Congress intended Title VII to secure. . This is not the first time the Court has ordered a cramped interpretation of Title VII, incompatible with the statute’s broad remedial purpose. . Once again, the ball is in Congress’ court. As in 1991, the Legislature may act to correct this Court’s parsimonious reading of Title VII." ⎝] ⎚]

In response to the court's decision, Congress enacted the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which was the first piece of legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama (D).

VMI ban on female cadets ruled unconstitutional (1996)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion that allowed women to attend the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), an all-male military school. The state of Virginia argued that allowing women to attend VMI would lower the overall quality of the experience at the Institute and that they would have to abandon their education style. In response, Virginia created the Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership (VWIL) to offer a female-only option. The petitioners Parties presenting a petition to an appellate court for relief on appeal. said that women applying to VMI wouldn't require special treatment and that women expected to be held to the same standards as male students. They also argued that the VWIL did not offer the same military training that VMI offered. Addressing those statements, Ginsburg wrote,:

Women's successful entry into the federal military academies, and their participation in the Nation's military forces, indicate that Virginia's fears for the future of VMI may not be solidly grounded. The State's justification for excluding all women from 'citizen soldier' training for which some are qualified, in any event, cannot rank as 'exceedingly persuasive,' as we have explained and applied that standard. ⎚]


How Jewish history and the Holocaust fueled Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s quest for justice

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of eight Jewish justices ever to serve on the Supreme Court. Ginsburg, who died Friday as Jews around the world began celebrating Rosh Hashanah, spoke about her Jewish identity and the horrifying history of anti-Semitism in a 2004 speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Here are her full remarks.

I had the good fortune to be a Jew born and raised in the U.S.A. My father left Odessa bound for the New World in 1909, at age 13 my mother was first in her large family to be born here, in 1903, just a few months after her parents and older siblings landed in New York. What is the difference between a bookkeeper in New York’s garment district and a Supreme Court Justice? Just one generation, my mother’s life and mine bear witness. Where else but America could that happen?

My heritage as a Jew and my occupation as a judge fit together symmetrically. The demand for justice runs through the entirety of Jewish history and Jewish tradition. I take pride in and draw strength from my heritage, as signs in my chambers attest: a large silver mezuzah on my door post, [a] gift from the Shulamith School for Girls in Brooklyn on three walls, in artists’ renditions of Hebrew letters, the command from Deuteronomy: “Zedek, zedek, tirdof” — “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” Those words are ever-present reminders of what judges must do that they “may thrive.”

But today, here in the Capitol, the lawmaking heart of our nation, in close proximity to the Supreme Court, we remember in sorrow that Hitler’s Europe, his Holocaust kingdom, was not lawless. Indeed, it was a kingdom full of laws, laws deployed by highly educated people — teachers, lawyers, and judges — to facilitate oppression, slavery and mass murder. We convene to say “Never again,” not only to Western history’s most unjust regime, but also to a world in which good men and women, abroad and even in the U.S.A., witnessed or knew of the Holocaust kingdom’s crimes against humanity, and let them happen.

The world’s failure to stop the atrocities of the Third Reich was perhaps nowhere more apparent than in Hungary, where the Holocaust descended late in the war. But when it came, it advanced with brutal speed. Hungary was the first country in Europe to adopt an anti-Jewish law after World War I, a short-lived measure that restricted the admission of Jews to institutions of higher learning. In the main, however, that nation’s 800,000 Jews lived free from terror until 1944. Although 63,000 Hungarian Jews lost their lives before the German occupation — most of them during forced service, under dreadful conditions, in labor battalions — Hungary’s leaders staved off German demands to carry out the Final Solution until March 19, 1944, when Hitler’s troops occupied the country.

Then, overnight, everything changed. Within three and a half months of the occupation, 437,000 Hungarian Jews were deported. Four trains a day, each transporting up to 3,000 people packed together like freight, left Hungary for Auschwitz, where most of the passengers were methodically murdered. This horrendous time is chronicled unforgettably by Hungarian Holocaust survivors and Nobel Prize winners Elie Wiesel, today’s lead speaker, and Imre Kertész, in their captivating works, “Night” and “Fateless.”

What happened to Hungary’s Jews is a tragedy beyond reckoning. For, unlike earlier deportations, the deportations in Hungary began and relentlessly continued after the tide had turned against the Axis, and after the Nazis’ crimes against humanity had been exposed. Less than a week after the German occupation of Hungary, President Roosevelt delivered a speech reporting that “the wholesale systematic murder of the Jews of Europe goes on unabated every hour” and that Hungarian Jews were now among those “threatened with annihilation.” Yet, the world, for the most part, did not rise up to stop the killing.

I say for the most part because, as swiftly as the Hungarian Holocaust happened, heroes emerged. Raoul Wallenberg, a member of Sweden’s most prominent banking family, arrived in Budapest in July 1944, and worked with the War Refugee Board — established by President Roosevelt just six months earlier — to protect tens of thousands of Jews from deportation. Wallenberg distributed Swedish protective passports he purchased or leased buildings, draped them with Swedish flags as diplomatically immune territory, and used them as safe havens for Jews. Through these devices, he was directly responsible for saving 20,000 people. Wallenberg carried food and medical supplies to Jews on forced marches from Budapest to Austria he sometimes succeeded in removing Jews from the marches by insisting they were protected Swedish citizens. He has been credited with saving some 100,000 Jews in the Budapest ghetto by forestalling attacks on that population by Hungary’s anti-Semitic Arrow Cross party. In January 1945, Wallenberg met with Soviet officials to gain relief for the Budapest Jews. He did not return from that journey.

Wallenberg and the War Refugee Board are perhaps the best-known rescuers of Jews trapped in the Hungarian Holocaust. In fact, many others, Jews and Gentiles alike, also rose to the occasion. Some remain unknown for their individual deeds of heroism others, including Carl Lutz of Switzerland, saved Jews on a larger scale. All the life savers were grand humans. But most of the world stood by in silence. Knowing what a few courageous souls accomplished in Hungary in short time, one can but ask: How many could have been saved throughout Europe had legions of others, both individuals and nations, the United States among them, intervened earlier?

I was fortunate to be a child, a Jewish child, safely in America during the Holocaust. Our nation learned from Hitler’s racism and, in time, embarked on a mission to end law-sanctioned discrimination in our own country. In the aftermath of World War II, in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, in the burgeoning Women’s Rights movement of the 1970s, “We the People” expanded to include all of humankind, to embrace all the people of this great nation. Our motto, E Pluribus Unum, of many one, signals our appreciation that we are the richer for the religious, ethnic, and racial diversity of our citizens.


Ruth Bader Ginsburg's impact on generations of women: 'She changed the way the law sees gender'

From early on in her studies and career, Ginsburg was a trailblazer.

Remembering Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to sit on the high court, felt like a personal loss to generations of American women, as well as young girls.

"For women, she was the most important legal advocate in American history. She changed the way the law sees gender," said Abbe Gluck, a Yale Law School professor and former clerk of Justice Ginsburg. "The United States Supreme Court did not even recognize that the constitution prohibits discrimination based on gender until 1971 -- and that's Justice Ginsburg's case."

In the 1970s, the young Ginsburg "convinced the entire nation, through [her arguments at the] Supreme Court, to. adopt the view of gender equality where equal means the same -- not special accommodations for either gender," Gluck told ABC News.

"It's astonishing from our modern vantage point to think that Supreme Court recognition for constitutional equality of women is only 50 years old," she said.

Ginsburg, who was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993, led the court's liberal wing after Justice John Paul Stevens' 2010 retirement, which was "incredibly meaningful" for women to see, Gluck said.

After Sandra Day O'Connor -- the Supreme Court's first female justice -- retired in 2006, and before Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined the court in 2009, Ginsburg was the only woman on the Supreme Court.

Those years as the only woman marked some of Ginsburg's "most powerful dissents," like in 2007's Gonzales v. Carhart, when she defended abortion rights and "chided Justice Kennedy for his paternalism," Gluck said.

Ginsburg wrote in her dissent, "the court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety. This way of thinking reflects ancient notions about women’s place in the family and under the Constitution -- ideas that have long since been discredited.”

From early on, Ginsburg was a trailblazer for women.

In the 1950s, Ginsburg went to Harvard Law School, where she was one of nine women in a class of 500 students. There she became the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.

Ginsburg later transferred to Columbia University Law School after her husband got a job in New York City. When Ginsburg graduated at the top of her class in 1959 without a job offer from a New York law firm, she accepted a clerkship with a Manhattan federal judge.

Ginsburg also pursued the law through academia. When she joined the faculty of Rutgers University in New Jersey, she became one of the first women to teach at any American law school. At Columbia Law School, Ginsburg became the school's first female tenured professor.

For women in the law, Ginsburg's story is especially meaningful -- both for those near her own generation, who "suffered from the same discrimination in education and unemployment as she did," but also those in the generations to follow, because she broke "all of those barriers for all of us that came after her," Gluck said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted Friday, "As a young mom heading off to Rutgers law school, I saw so few examples of female lawyers or law professors. But Ruthie blazed the trail. I’m forever grateful for her example — to me, and to millions of young women who saw her as a role model."

Gluck, who clerked for Ginsburg in the 2003 term, said the legendary lawyer "was an extraordinary mentor to all of her law clerks. She cared deeply about our work lives and our personal lives. She got to know our children."

"She demanded a lot of us because she demands more from herself," Gluck continued.

"She taught me how to be a lawyer," Gluck said. "She taught me what it means to lead a life committed to the causes of social justice."

"And on a personal level, she and her husband, Martin, modeled what it means to be in an equal marriage, an equal parenting relationship," Gluck said.


Fighting For Equal Citizenship

Photo: mississippifreepress.org

Even before getting a seat on the bench of the Supreme Court, she fought for equality. She argued cases of sex discrimination.

Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld in 1975 served as one of her most important early cases. In it, Stephen Wiesenfeld, a widower, got denied the Social Security child support benefits. A woman would have received the benefits in the same situation.

That proved she fights for gender equality, no matter the gender. During the 1970s, she also served as the director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union.