“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born on March 15, 1933, in New York as the younger of the two children of Nathan Bader, a merchant, and Celia Bader. Her mother heavily influenced Ruth’s early life and she excelled at James Madison High School. Sadly, Ruth’s mother was diagnosed with cancer and died the day before her high school graduation. Her success persevered at Cornell University, where she graduated at the top of her class in 1954. During the first semester, she met her husband Martin Ginsburg and after graduating from Cornell University, they decided to start a family. Two years after, with their daughter just being born, Ruth enrolled at Harvard Law School. While Ruth studied at Harvard, she served on the editorial staff of the Harvard Law Review as the first female to do so and was a caregiver to not only her daughter but also Martin, who had been diagnosed with testicular cancer. After he recovered from cancer, they moved to New York City, where Ruth decided to finish her studies at Columbia Law. She graduated first in her class in 1959 and served in the Columbia Law Review.
She became a professor at Rutgers Law School and Columbia Law School as one of the few women in her field. Ruth continued her career as an advocate for gender equality and women’s rights and won many arguments before the Supreme Court. She co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and argued six gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court between 1973 and 1976, winning five. She argued cases like Reed v. Reed, in which the Supreme Court extended the protections of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to women, and Frontiero v. Richardson which questioned the law that made it more challenging for a female service member to claim an increased housing allowance for their husband than for a male service member.
On April 14, 1980, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was nominated by President Jimmy Carter to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Later, on June 22, 1993, she was nominated by President Bill Clinton as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. She was the second woman and the first Jewish female justice of the Supreme Court. During her time on the Supreme Court, she became a fighter for gender equality, reproductive rights, and women´s rights. As a result of her ruling in the Ledbetter v. Goodyear case, the law which makes it less difficult for employees to win pay discrimination claims was adopted. Moreover, she became a supporter of reproductive rights and access to abortion in cases such as Roe v. Wade and Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the reason why women in the USA have the right to sign a mortgage without a man, the right to have a bank account without a male co-signer, the right for pregnant women or women who have children to work, the right to have a job without being discriminated based on gender and the right to consent to their own medical treatment. Undoubtedly, she created a better and more functional nation for a lot of women.
Although she continually stood up for women and minorities, a few of her rulings in cases regarding Native Americans are questionable. In the case City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York, she ruled the Oneida Indian Nation could not revive its ancient sovereignty over its historic land. She was extensively criticized for this decision. However, a year after this decision, she took a different approach in several cases, and in 2020, she joined the ruling of McGirt v. Oklahoma, which gave Native American jurisdictions over reservations in Oklahoma. She publicly admitted she regrets her decision in City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York more than any other decision she made in the court.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18, 2020, at age 87 died from complications of pancreatic cancer. She was an unforgettable figure – a symbol of law and feminism, the heroine of millennials. Without a doubt, her legacy will impact future generations across the globe. So, let´s be inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsburg and persevere in our efforts to make the world equal because as she said: “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”
Written by WAVE Intern Mária Trubanová