A Trailblazing Career: Justice Ruther Bader Ginsburg

Staff Writer: Aidan Leavitt

aleavitt@umassd.edu

Justice Ruther Bader Ginsburg, the trail blazing legal scholar, also known as the “Notorious RBG,” passed away at the age of 87 on September 18th, 2020. It was announced that her death was the result of complications from metastatic cancer of the pancreas. 

            Ruth Bader Ginsburg served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1993 to 2020. She was appointed to the Supreme Court on June 22, 1993 by then President at the time Bill Clinton. She was the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court (the first woman being Justice Sandra Day O’Connor). 

            Ruther Bader Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 15, 1933. She received her B.A. from Cornell University, attended Harvard Law School, and received her LL. B from Columbia Law School. In the 1970s Ginsburg litigated sex discrimination cases for the American Civil Liberties Union and was instrumental in launching its Women’s Rights Project in 1973. President Jimmy Carter appointed Ginsburg to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1980. Then on June 14, 1993 Ginsburg accepted President Bill Clinton’s nomination to the Supreme Court of The United States and served for twenty-seven years. 

            Over the tenure of her twenty-seven years on the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg had a lot to say on the court. In Shelby County v. Holder (2013), which is most likely her most famous dissent, the court ruled in a five to four decision that freed mostly Southern states from having to clear voting changes with the federal government, which was a clause in the Voting Rights Act. This clause targeted the states that in the past made it difficult for African Americans or minorities to vote with rules like the poll tax, literacy tests and grandfather clauses. Justice Ginsburg in her dissent criticized the Courts ruling most notably saying, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” 

            Another famous Justice Ginsburg dissent came in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007), which in a five to four decision denied Lilly Ledbetter the right to sue her employer for gender-based pay discrimination because of the length of time that had passed since the violation. Justice Ginsburg argued, “Our precedent suggests, and lower courts have overwhelmingly held, that the unlawful practice is the current payment of salaries infected by gender-based (or race-based) discrimination – a practice that occurs whenever a paycheck delivers less to a woman than to a similarly situated man.” Two years after this dissent and the urging of Justice Ginsburg, congress eventually passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009. This Act requires that employers redouble their efforts to ensure that their pay practices are non-discriminatory and to make certain that they keep the records needed to prove the fairness of pay decisions.

            When nominating Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, Bill Clinton claimed, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg cannot be called a liberal or a conservative; she was proved herself too thoughtful for such labels.” Which for the most part is true, she fought for some ideals that would seem radical to people at the time: the idea that marriage could be an egalitarian institution, the idea that gender norms really don’t mean anything and are not helpful to anyone. However, at the same time, so much of the work that she accomplishes is by making compromises, by being tactical, by being pragmatic, and trying to figure out what the long-term strategy is. She wanted to figure out how we would move forward toward a society that is more equal, more egalitarian, but without alienating the people who may disagree along the way to accomplishing this?

            This idea of not alienating the people who have opposing views could be seen in the friendship between Justice Ginsburg and Justice Scalia, who were completely ideological opposed to each other. This friendship does speak about her philosophy on life, in that you can have principles that really matter to you, and you are working toward achieving them, but she really cared about meeting people halfway. 

             Justice Ginsburg also disagreed with the Roe v. Wade decision, which at the time Justice Ginsburg was a litigator at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, and she was working on a case of a pregnant servicewoman who the military told had to either have an abortion or leave her job, and the servicewoman wanted to do neither. Justice Ginsburg wanted to use this case to argue that reproductive freedom was an essential component of a woman’s equal status under the law. She disagreed with the court decision because she found that Roe v. Wade was lacking the idea that the choice of whether or not to bear a child goes hand in hand with a woman’s right to decide the course of her life.

            Going forward, the future is even more unclear of what is coming, with COVID-19 sweeping across the nation and the United States hitting a morbid number of 200,000 deaths. The passing of Justice Ginsburg throws the future into even more disarray, with President Trump having the opportunity to appoint yet another Supreme Court Justice, which said person would ultimately be more conservative than Justice Ginsburg and would swing the highest court in the land further right. Some cases that have appeared before the court before and that have been scrutinized by Republicans may now be under fire yet again, the biggest one being Roe v. Wade. The future is uncertain, but the one thing that is certain is that we lost one of most accomplished women the Supreme Court has ever seen, and one that will be dearly missed. 

Sources:

https://www.npr.org/2020/09/18/100306972/justice-ruth-bader-ginsburg-champion-of-gender-equality-dies-at-87

https://www.supremecourthistory.org/history-of-the-court/the-current-court/justice-ruth-bader-ginsburg/

https://www.fjc.gov/history/judges/ginsburg-ruth-bader

https://forward.com/culture/394025/ruth-bader-ginsburg-supreme-court-superhero-jane-eisner/

https://www.npr.org/2018/12/21/679065534/justice-ruth-bader-ginsburg-undergoes-surgery-for-lung-cancer

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ruth-Bader-Ginsburg

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/09/18/i-dissent-justice-ruth-bader-ginsburgs-most-memorable-opinions/2661426002/

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