Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a cultural, feminist and legal icon. Ginsburg served for 27 years on the highest court, opens a new window in the United States and was a champion for gender equality and women’s rights. She passed away on Friday, September 18. She was 87 years old.
Joan Ruth Bader was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1933. After completing her undergraduate degree at Cornell University, she married Martin (Marty) Ginsburg, opens a new window and gave birth to their daughter, Jane. When Ginsburg began law school at Harvard Law in 1956, she was one of only nine women in a class of more than 500. The dean asked her, along with the other eight women, why she was there taking up a place that "should go to a man." When Marty got a job in New York City, Ginsburg transferred to Colombia Law School, where she went on to graduate tied for first in her class.
Ginsburg had difficulty finding employment after graduating due to her gender. With the the fervent support of her mentor, Gerald Gunther, opens a new window, Ginsburg secured a clerkship in New York after Gunther promised Judge Edmund Palmieri, opens a new window that if Ginsburg couldn't adequately perform the work required, he would find a replacement. Ginsburg clerked for Palmieri for two years.
Ginsburg's legal fights for gender equality began in the 1970s, and she continued to fight for equality for both genders throughout her career—in education, jobs and benefits. Antonin Scalia, later Ginsburg’s colleague on the Supreme Court, said, "She became the leading (and very successful) litigator on behalf of women's rights.”
Ginsburg was nominated to the Supreme Court by then-President Bill Clinton in 1993. While serving on the court, she was part of the “liberal wing” of the court, where she continued to champion equality and feminist issues.
Ginsburg was a passionate lover of opera, rode horses well into her seventies and even went parasailing from time to time. She grew into a pop cultural icon after Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement left Ginsburg as the only woman on the Supreme Court. As she continued her well-thought-out and often vocal dissents, a law student styled her “Notorious R.B.G.” after the late rapper Notorious B.I.G., and her relevance only rose from there. She has inspired operas, books, t-shirts, documentaries and movies. She remarked that she had quite a large supply of Notorious R.B.G. shirts, which she gave out as gifts.
Her Legacy is a Blessing
Ginsburg died on Rosh Hashanah. Per Jewish tradition, a person who has died on Rosh Hashanah is named a Tzaddik (male) or Tzaddeket (female): a truly righteous person. Not just a kind person, but a person who fought for equality and who worked faithfully to bring down unjust barriers in all parts of life.
In Judaism, when someone dies, one says, “May their memory be a blessing.” This does not necessarily mean that we are to simply remember them fondly, but that we should strive to be more like them and to move forward the good work they have done. In saying, “May her memory be a blessing,” what is meant is that we should be more like Ruth Bader Ginsburg: righteous, thoughtful, and furthering a more just and equitable world for all.
May her memory be a blessing.
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