By ROBYN H. JIMENEZ
The Dallas Examiner
Fight for the things you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you. – Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg may have been one of, if not the most respected and admired Supreme Court justices, but her early years were humble as her family struggled to achieve the American dream.
She was born as Joan Ruth Bader in Brooklyn, New York, on March 15, 1933. Her family was Jewish and lived in a low-income neighborhood. Her father was a Jewish immigrant from Russia. During those years, the Jewish community experienced discrimination and were at times terrorized by anti-Semitic groups.
As a teenager, Joan’s mother battled cancer and died a few days before young Joan graduated high school.
She went on to Cornell University where she met and dated a law student named Martin. In a documentary about her life, she shared that he was the first guy to care that she had a brain. She graduated first in her class, earning a bachelor’s degree in government in 1954. The two married the same year and her name was changed to Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Afterward, she went on to Harvard Law School where she experienced gender discrimination firsthand in the male-dominated field.
In 1956, her husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer and began treatments. She took on the task of helping him maintain his grades, as she kept up with her own grades and cared for their first son.
After recovering and graduating from law school, her husband was hired at a New York law firm.
Ginsburg graduated first in her class from law school in 1959. However, she stated that when she began looking for a job as an attorney, she was faced with a wall of discrimination because she was Jewish, a woman and a mother. So she took a job as a law clerk to Judge Edmund L. Palmieri of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
In 1963, she began molding the young minds of future attorneys as an instructor at Rutgers University Law School. She went on to become an educator at Columbia University in 1972.
In 1970, she began prosecuting sex discrimination cases for the American Civil Liberties Union, where she founded the Women’s Rights Project in 1973. She served as director for the project and argued six landmark cases on gender equality before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1980, Ginsburg’s skills caught the attention of President Jimmy Carter, who appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated Ginsburg to the U.S. Supreme Court of Justices. Then-Sen. Joe Biden, currently a Democratic presidential candidate, presided over the confirmation hearings. On Aug. 10, 1993, she became the second woman to be nominated to the position.
“Justice Ginsburg was an incredibly accomplished civil rights lawyer who devoted her entire legal career to the pursuit of equal justice and eliminating discrimination of all types,” Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP expressed in a prepared statement. “When President Bill Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court, he called her the ‘Thurgood Marshall of gender equality law.’
“Justice Ginsburg’s 27-year tenure on the Supreme Court was marked by a passion for justice and the rule of the law. Her long, remarkable record includes her legendary opinions involving disability rights in Olmstead v. LC, and gender equality in the military, the United States v. Virginia. She was also known for her powerful dissents, many of which she delivered from the bench. These include dissents in the voting rights decision of Shelby County v. Holder, the gender equity case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire Company, and the affirmative action case of Ricci v. Stefano.”
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, noted Ginsburg was a fierce advocate for civil rights during her storied career as an attorney, law professor and justice.
“Though Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is best known as a champion for women’s rights, her record on racial justice issues was second to none during her time on the court,” Clarke noted. “As one example, her powerful dissent in Shelby County v. Holder laid bare the flaws of the majority’s stance that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was no longer needed and was prescient in predicting that the ruling would open the door to wide-scale voter suppression. She has inspired countless generations of women, lawyers and advocates to resiliently fight for our country to live up to the ideals enshrined in our Constitution. As an attorney, Ginsburg was a tireless advocate for equal justice under law, winning several seminal sex discrimination cases before the Supreme Court that guaranteed equal protection for all regardless of gender.”
Ginsburg had several bouts with cancer. In 1999, she was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. In 2009, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Both times she had surgery between court sessions.
In 2015, Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik wrote Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a millennial-style biography of Ginsburg’s life and career. In 2016, she authored My Own Words, a compilation of her speeches and writings. In 2018, Magnolia Pictures released RBG, a documentary film on her life, career and rising popularity of the 85-year-old superstar.
She made news as the country rang in 2019 when she missed work for the first time after decades of being on the Supreme Court. In December 2018, she took two weeks off for a pulmonary lobectomy where two malignant nodules removed from her left lung. The nodules were discovered after a fall on Nov. 7, 2018, in which she broke three rib bones.
On July 31, 2019, a biopsy was performed after an abnormality was discovered during a routine blood test. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and began a three-week course of treatment in August.
Ginsburg died Sept. 18 due to complications of metastatic pancreas cancer. She was 87 years old. She will be the first woman to lie in state.
“Five years ago, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked in an interview, ‘When the time comes, what would you like to be remembered for?’” Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Convention recalled. “She replied, ‘Someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability, and to help repair tears in her society.’
“Throughout her extraordinary career, Ruth Bader Ginsburg did her very best to repair the tears in our society. She was a brilliant jurist, a fearless champion for justice, a trailblazer for countless women and girls, and a tireless advocate for the rights of those on society’s margins. With a sharp mind and even sharper wit, Justice Ginsburg changed our court and our country for the better. The Supreme Court has lost a giant today, and America has lost a hero. May her memory be a blessing, and may her family find solace in the prayers of a grateful nation.”
Sources: U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Supreme Court of the United States, American Civil Liberties Union, JoeBiden.com and Magnolia Pictures. Quotes were taken from press releases.