Justice Ginsburg gave a voice to those discriminated against by the law, leaving a lasting impact on the American people and our justice system.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a pioneer for gender equality and fought relentlessly for human rights as a justice for the Supreme Court of the United States for 27 years until her death on September 18, 2020.
Ginsburg faced many personal hardships that put a pause on her higher education. Shortly after the birth of her first daughter, Jane, Ginsburg's husband was drafted into the military. Once he returned two years later, the two began their studies at Harvard. Later on, her husband of 56 years, Martin, died of cancer.
Ginsburg was not a stranger to gender discrimination. Being one of only eight women attending Harvard Law at the time, she constantly faced disapproval from the dean of the law school for taking a spot away from a qualified male. Ginsburg later transferred to Colombia and graduated being tied for first in her class in 1959.
During the 1970s, Ginsburg served as the director of the Women's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. It was with the ACLU that she argued for gender equality on six landmark cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. One of these cases was Reed v. Reed where Ginsburg challenged a law that gave preference to men to be appointed the administrators of a deceased person's estate. This case was a catalyst that helped change hundreds of laws that classified people on the basis of sex.
In 1980, Ginsburg was nominated by President Jimmy Carter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Washington D.C. where she served for 13 years. In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Ginsburg to the U.S. Supreme where she would serve for the next 27 years.
Ginsburg was part of the moderate-liberal bloc of the Supreme Court and most strongly advocated for a continued and even stronger separation of church and state, workers' rights and gender equality. She paved the way for legal recognition of transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people.
In Weinberger v. Weidenfeld, Ginsburg triumphantly overturned a provision in the Social Security Act that denied legal benefits to widowed fathers, even though those benefits were given to widowed mothers.
She realized and understood that the kind of change she wished to enact would take time. But through her perseverance and determination, women now make up more than half of law students and she has inspired others to speak out against discrimination.
However, there is still a lot more work to be done. Women make up 17% of lawyers that appear in front of the Supreme Court. Although women make up an almost even amount of associates at private law firms, only about 12% of the executives are women.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg undoubtedly changed our world in a way that we will continue to see the effects of her life and legacy in the decades to come.
Photo courtesy of Ruven Afanador