Updated: Sep 8
Photo from: ThePrint.in
Whatever your political leaning may be, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s contributions, to women’s and civil rights, are undeniable. That’s why the news of her passing on September 18th, due to complications from metastatic pancreas cancer, was felt deeply and widely. To honour her, I wanted to write about why she had a profound impact on me, and I presume others. I list the top two attributes and one accomplishment I feel were behind her power and success.
Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1933, not a very progressive time for women. Despite that, Ginsburg worked her way up to become the second female justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Before that she was a Professor at Rutgers University School of Law and Columbia University School of Law, the first woman to be hired with tenure there. She also was a general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union among other impressive roles for her time.
Besides her great accomplishments, she excelled academically and went to three universities (Cornell, Harvard and Columbia) finishing her law degree at Columbia with high honours (e.g. Kent Scholar). She also became the first female member of the esteemed legal journals, the Harvard Law Review and Columbia Law Review.
Her mother encouraged Ginsburg to have a good education and to be independent. At one point she said, "My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent." I believe that along with her strength and fight for the equality of herself and others drove her.
Ginsburg’s drive and accomplishments took a lot of strength. Her mother passed away from cancer the day before she graduated from high school. She went on to graduate from university and go to law school shortly after having her first baby, Jane.
She then experienced a lot of discrimination in and out of school. She was one of nine women in her law class and, at one point, was asked by the school dean why she and her female classmates were taking the places of qualified males, suggesting women did not belong there. She also experienced barriers when seeking employment after her studies. She was not hired on many occasions based on her gender and possibly religious background, Jewish. Thankfully, she did not buy into the lie that she was less than in any way and persevered.
Her personal life wasn’t smooth either. She had treatments for colon and pancreatic cancer as well as surgery for her heart. Also, after 56 years of marriage, her husband died of cancer. Before that, she helped her husband Marty, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the time, by attending his law classes and typing his notes before starting her course work.
Clearly, she contained a lot of strength to continue as she did. As she stated about these matters, “anger, resentment, envy, and self-pity are wasteful reactions. They greatly drain one's time. They sap energy better devoted to productive endeavors.” Her impact and legacy are indicative of this.
Impact and Legacy
Ginsburg wrote and supported many laws that supported choice and equality, notably United States v. Virginia (1996), ending Virginia Military Institute's single sex admission policy, Stenberg v. Carhart (2000), overruling Nebraska’s partial-abortion law, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), making same-sex marriage in all 50 states legal.
Her support or dissent of certain laws made her really popular among the more liberal-minded and she was eventually dubbed the “Notorious RBG” (likening her to the famous late rapper the Notorious B.I.G) after she dissented Shelby County v. Holder (2013), a ruling that freed mostly Southern states from having to clear voting changes with the federal government. A move that could allow voting suppression and discrimination once again.
According to Ginsburg on her rulings and accomplishments, "I didn't change the Constitution; the equality principle was there from the start. I just was an advocate for seeing its full realization." She also said, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
She was a true Go-Giver (the title of Bob Burg and John David Mann’s book) as opposed to a go-getter and because of this she has the influence and legacy she has. For Ginsburg, it was all about making “life a little better for people less fortunate than you, that's what I think a meaningful life is. One lives not just for oneself but for one's community." This was also evident when she donated the entire 1 million-dollar Berggruen Prize she received in 2019 to charitable and non-profit organizations.
When asked how she would like to be remembered, she said, as “someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has.” I, among many others, believe she did that. Our world would be different and a lot less equal if she did not contribute the way she did. Thankfully, she is recognized for her efforts and made history being the first woman and first Jewish person to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol. The highest honour granted to America’s most distinguished citizens since 1852.
These are my top three. What are some qualities or accomplishments you liked about the Notorious RBG? Please share.