“People ask me, what do you have in common with the Notorious B.I.G. (a well known rapper), and I say to them, we were both born and bred in Brooklyn, New York.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on Sep. 18, 2020. Ginsburg died at her home in Washington D.C. as a result of complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer.
She was nicknamed the Notorious R.B.G. by a second year law student at New York University (NYU). As Ginsburg explained in a 2017 NBC interview, “This young woman was, to put it mildly, disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision in the Shelby County case — the decision that held a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 no longer constitutional.” Thus, the “Notorious R.B.G.” was born, a positive Tumblr blog to celebrate Justice Ginsburg’s dedication to the law. With her recent passing, it’s important to reflect on Ginsburg’s life and impact on our country.
Born in the spring of 1933 to a working-class family in Flatbush, Brooklyn, Ginsburg grew up watching her mother, Celia Amster Bader, provide for the family as a garment factory worker in order to send her brother (Ginsburg’s uncle) to college. This instilled within Ginsburg a great appreciation for education as she excelled in high school and went on to graduate top of her class at Cornell University in 1954. Unfortunately, her mother was diagnosed with cancer during Ginsburg’s teen years and did not live to see her child’s high school graduation, but her teachings live on through Ginsburg’s legacy.
Ginsburg overcame many barriers imposed by sex discrimination in the 1950s as 1 of 8 females in a male-dominated class of 500 Harvard Law students. When she attended in 1956, it had only been six years since Harvard Law began admitting women students. Even the dean chastised Ginsburg and her seven female classmates for “taking a man’s spot.” Nevertheless, through the misogynistic comments, gender-based discrimination and crude remarks, Ginsburg prevailed. She became the first ever female member of the Harvard Law Review, an esteemed, student-run journal of legal scholarship. Her personal struggles admiringly never hindered Ginsburg’s ability to excel in her roles as a student, a mother or a wife, especially when her husband Martin Ginsburg was diagnosed with testicular cancer during her first year of law school.
Despite her prodigious academic achievements, Ginsburg continued to face great discrimination while attempting to enter the workforce as a female lawyer. She remarked at one point that if she and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor had not faced any sex discrimination, they both would’ve been partners at a law firm.
She took a job as a professor at Columbia and became the first female at the school to receive tenure. During the 1970s Ginsburg built upon her status as a feminist icon “as the director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), for which she argued six landmark cases on gender equality before the U.S. Supreme Court.” Ginsburg was hellbent on dedicating herself and her career to “the equality of all people and the ability to be free.”
R.B.G. became the nation’s second woman to be appointed as Supreme Court Justice, serving from 1993 until her recent passing, where she earned the nickname “The Great Dissenter” for her “fiery, impassioned” dissents against her fellow judges’ regressive decisions. Ginsburg recognized the need to move this country and its belief systems forward as she spent her time as Justice making choices and fighting for laws that would warrant equality for those in the LGBTQ+ community, undocumented people, disabled people and, of course, women in the workplace. Ruth Bader Ginsburg made her mark on this nation’s history by returning power back to the people. The little girl from Brooklyn who built her life upon the significance of one’s independence has provided just that for so many.
Ginsburg taught us that it’s possible to be close friends with those who have completely different opinions than oneself. She demonstrated this through her great friendship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away five years ago. Scalia’s interpretation of the Constitution and American law was far different than Ginsburg’s, and when asked about how he could be close friends with someone so radically different in thinking than his own, Scalia replied, “I attack ideas, not people… and if you cannot disagree with your colleagues on the law as a lawyer, you ought to get another day job.” Ginsburg often noted that the bipartisan spirit in America has been absent since her confirmation to the high court in 1993. Scalia and Ginsburg’s friendship is a reminder that there is hope that America will heal from the ongoing crises our nation is facing.