On September 18th, 2020, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away, leaving behind a world forever changed by her work.
Ginsburg was appointed Supreme Court Justice (being the second woman to ever serve on the US Supreme Court) after a lifetime of struggles and achievements in the face of adversity, and fought against gender discrimination and social inequality all the while.
Since her youth, she was an excellent student and had a passion for academia: she graduated top of her class at Cornell University in 1954 and, after taking a break from her education to start a family, enrolled at Harvard Law School. Her first year there, her husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer, but she did not let this, nor the fact that she was 1 of the 9 women in the 500-person class, deter her from her academic goals. Despite the gender-based discrimination she faced (she and the other female students were chastised by the authorities there for taking spots at Harvard Law that would otherwise be occupied by men), she became the first female member of the Harvard Law Review. When she transferred to Columbia Law School, she served on their law review as well, and graduated first in her class in 1959.
Still, Ginsburg’s excellent academic performance was not enough to protect her from the discrimination women faced in the workplace during the 1960s: law firms did not often hire women, and she had difficulties finding a job. Finally, she was hired to clerk for US District Judge Edmund L. Palmieri for two years. After this, she received offers from law firms, but always at a lower salary than her male counterparts. Hence, she instead joined Columbia Law School’s International Procedure Project, within which she co-authored a book on Swedish Civil Procedure practices.
In 1963, she joined the faculty of Rutgers University Law School. Discovering that her salary was lower than her male colleagues’, she joined an equal pay campaign with other female faculty, which resulted in pay increases for the women teaching at the university.
In 1972, she accepted an offer to teach at Columbia Law School and became the first woman at Columbia to be granted tenure.
That same year, the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union was born under her leadership. She led the fight against gender discrimination and successfully argued six landmark cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1980, Ginsburg accepted Jimmy Carter’s appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. She served in this position until 1993 when Bill Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Throughout her career as a justice, she fought for women’s rights. Rather than creating sweeping limitations on gender discrimination, she attacked specific areas of discrimination and violations of women’s rights one at a time. She believed that major social change should come from the legislatures, rather than from the courts, and her method of fighting discrimination allowed for this to be the case–with Ginsburg as Supreme Court Justice, the court offered guidance for Congress to enact social change.
In 1996, Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion in United States v. Virginia, holding that qualified women could not be denied admission to Virginia Military Institute. In 2007, she dissented in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., where a female worker being paid significantly less than males with her same qualifications, sued under Title VII but was denied relief under a statute of limitations issue. Following this, she worked with President Obama to pass the first piece of legislation he signed, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which allows individuals who face pay discrimination to seek rectification under federal anti-discrimination laws.
Throughout her life, Ruth Bader Ginsburg never stopped fighting for justice. Through her service and many sacrifices for the country and for women, she undoubtedly changed the world—made it a better and more equal place for all people—for which she will never be forgotten.