By Jenna Yingling ’21
Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday, September 18, at the age of 87. The Supreme Court announced her death and established that the cause was complications from metastatic cancer of the pancreas. Supreme Court Justices, politicians, and civilians all publicly mourned the death of the prominent justice, and many have recounted Ginsburg’s historical ascent through the law world, where she became a champion for gender equality, as well as a feminist icon.
Ginsburg graduated from Columbia University at the top of her law school class in 1959. Despite her academic qualifications, Ginsburg struggled to find a law firm that would accept her, for this field was dominated by men. With the help of a professor, Ginsburg eventually received a clerkship position in New York, marking the beginning of her illustrious career in law.
In 1963, Ginsburg received a teaching position at Rutgers Law School, where she began her efforts against gender discrimination. The lawyer’s first large case challenged a law that blocked a man from taking a tax deduction to care for his elderly mother. Ginsburg exposed the gender inequality dictating tax statutes.
Ginsburg wrote her first Supreme Court brief in 1971. The brief covered the case Reed v. Reed, representing Sally Reed, who argued that she should execute her son’s estate instead of her ex-husband. The issue at hand debated whether the state could automatically prefer men over women as executors of estates. The Supreme Court voted in favor of Sally Reed, marking this case as the first time the court struck down a state law because it discriminated based on sex.
In effect, Ginsburg gained traction in her field. She became the first tenured female professor at Columbia Law School and founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. Ginsburg developed many winning legal strategies, like demonstrating how discrimination towards women can harm men. Additionally, she worked to persuade the courts that the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment not only applies to racial minorities, but to women as well.
In 1980, Ginsburg was named to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by President Jimmy Carter. While working on the court, the justice received a reputation as a centrist liberal. In 1993, she was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton and became the second woman to serve in this position.
During her time serving on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg continued to fight ruthlessly on behalf of women. She strongly dissented in Letter V. Goodyear, a case limiting back pay for victims of employment discrimination. The justice dissented strongly in the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, which allowed for-profit companies to refuse to cover birth control in health care plans on religious grounds. She argued that this case denied contraceptive coverage to women who did not share the company’s beliefs and could act as a precedent for employers to deny other women’s rights.
Ginsburg was also admired for her physical and psychological grit. Even after fighting five battles with cancer, she maintained a rigorous work schedule. In fact, only three weeks after undergoing a major cancer surgery, Ginsburg attended the State of the Union address in 2009. Also, the day following the death of her husband, Ginsburg was seen on the bench, reading an opinion she had written for the court.
Ginsburg is regarded as an important historical figure, and prominent symbol for females everywhere. Ginsburg created a platform for women to speak out against gender discrimination. Her efforts and achievements fighting for gender equality will forever serve as a cornerstone of women’s rights.