Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died at age 87. Her death was caused by complications from metastatic cancer of the pancreas. Ginsburg was a three-time cancer survivor revered for her longtime seat on the Supreme Court as only the second woman in American history and her dedication to upholding justice for as long as she could.
“Our nation has lost a jurist of historic stature,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said in a statement. “We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn, but with confidence, that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her—a tireless and resolute champion of justice.”
Ginsburg became a cultural and feminist icon known for her passion and radical action, even earning the nickname “Notorious RBG.” She may have only been five-feet tall, but through her work, she wielded her power to make an impact larger than most.
The early life
Ginsburg––born Ruth Joan Bader–was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York in 1933 to Nathan and Celia Bader. She studied government at Cornell University for her undergraduate degree, where she met her husband of 56 years, Martin Ginsburg. She graduated first in her class in 1954 (the same year she and Martin married) and was bound for Harvard Law School where she was only one of nine women in her class of 500. She transferred to Columbia Law School for her last year to join her husband and served on their law review. Ginsburg would later become the first tenured female professor at Columbia.
Ginsburg led an extensive legal career after graduating first in her class from Columbia Law School in 1959, though she was turned down for positions at 14 different firms because she was Jewish, a woman, and a mother. She ended up clerking for a judge before she became a professor at Rutgers in 1963 and later at Columbia nine years later. It wasn’t until 1972 that she co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), where she argued six cases in front of the Supreme Court. Those cases all focused on gender issues, both advocating for men and women who were put at a disadvantage by written law due to their gender.
Under President Carter, Ginsburg was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals in 1980. A little over a decade later, she was nominated by Bill Clinton and appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993 as only the second woman to be a Supreme Court justice, following in the footsteps of Sandra Day O’Connor who was appointed in 1981 and retired in 2006.
Ginsburg paved the path for women in America and has become a prominent historical figure. Women were treated differently, by law, when she began her legal journey. Through her persistent work, she led fights within the courts to fight for gender equality for all.
Ginsburg’s place in today’s popular culture turned her into an icon for women, no matter their age. She inspired countless movies and books and even became a recurring character in sketches on Saturday Night Live (always done by cast member Kate McKinnon). From her political decisions to her extension collar collection and viral workout routine (twice a week with her trainer, even in her 80s, she’d do planks, lift weights, and do push-ups), she became a staple in pop culture.
Through her life and legacy, Ginsburg became not only a cultural and historical icon but a feminist icon as well. The word “courageous” is fittingly used to describe Ginsburg as she navigated what, at the time, was considered a man’s world. She was outnumbered in law school by hundreds, was refused library access, and constantly–and verbally–had to prove her own worth. She was not only a lawyer and professor, but a loving mother, a dedicated wife, and a caretaker for her husband throughout his bouts of cancer.
Her appointment as a Supreme Court Justice was indirectly caused by sexism. Since she was declined from many law firms in New York for being a woman and having children at home, she couldn’t get the job she went to school for so long to achieve. Instead, her career path shifted, and she was led to the highest court in the United States. Through her public and personal life, Ginsburg has fought against sexism in the country and her impact will continue even after she is gone. At least, that’s what she hopes.
“When I’m sometimes asked ‘When will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court]?’ and I say ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”