She was born March 15, 1933, in Brooklyn New York, and her life and her career have had a major impact on this nation, and on me.
I am not a lawyer, nor legal scholar. I am, however, a staunch feminist and advocate for women's and civil rights, and there are many women who have profoundly affected my thinking and activism over the years. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of my sheroes.
Long before her ascent to the highest court in the land, Ginsburg was making changes that would affect me and all my sisters.
Makers, a women's video collection, has quite a few interviews with her, spanning her life and career, including the one above, "Legal Pioneer." From the video:
Long before Ruth Bader Ginsburg became only the second woman ever appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, she broke countless legal and professional barriers for women. Raised in a working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY, Ginsburg graduated first in her class from Cornell University in 1954. She started a family with her college sweetheart Martin Ginsburg and enrolled in Harvard Law School where she was one of only nine women in her class. She became one of the first woman elected to the Harvard Law Review, a feat she repeated at Columbia Law School, where she transferred for her final year.
Although Ginsburg graduated first in her class from Columbia, she found herself turned away by most law firms and judges who refused to hire a woman. Thanks to the extensive intervention of a Columbia professor, she secured a judicial clerkship in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. In 1963, she began teaching at Rutgers University Law School, one of only twenty women or so teaching law in the country at that time. She went on to teach at Columbia Law School from 1972 to 1980 and there became the school's first female tenured professor.
At the same time that Ginsburg was setting new professional precedents for women she was turning her attention to their unequal treatment under the law. As a volunteer lawyer at the New Jersey offices of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the 1960s, she saw a growing number of sex discrimination cases brought, thanks to the just-passed 1964 Civil Rights Act’s Title VII. Inspired by these cases and the interest of her students, she began teaching on women in the law and in 1970, co-founded the Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the first law journal in the U.S. to focus exclusively on women's rights. She later co-founded the Women's Rights Project at the ACLU, and as its chief litigator, briefed and argued several landmark cases in front of the Supreme Court. Her victories in those cases directly led to the end of gender discrimination in many areas of the law.
You can read more about this phase in her career in Raising the Bar: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the ACLU Women's Rights Project
by Amy Leigh Campbell:
Raising the Bar defines Ruth Bader Ginsburg's contribution to American constitutional law through her efforts as professor, lawyer, and women's rights advocate. Focusing on the years 1971 to 1980, it explores the decade during which Ginsburg founded and was general counsel to the ACLU Women's Rights Project. Several scholars have undertaken similar analyses in the past, but the missing ingredient has long been Ginsburg's own perspective, now available through her donation of private papers. Raising the Bar pinpoints Ginsburg's role in the progression of her complicated, multi-layered strategy to combat gender discrimination from theory to implementation.
Author Campbell has an article in the Texas Journal of Women and Law
with the same title.
The Rachel Maddow Show recently featured a one-on-one interview by Irin Carmon with Ginsburg (full interview and transcript).
In the interview she talks about a wide range of issues, including reproductive rights, civil rights, and the current state of race relations in our country.
CARMON: So I’m looking at something that you wrote in 2003. You said, “The stain of generations of racial oppression is still visible in our society.” I’m wondering how you see the current state of race relations in our country?
GINSBURG: People who think you could wave a magic wand and the legacy of the past will be over are blind. Think of neighborhood living patterns. We still have many neighborhoods that are racially identified. We still have many schools that even though the days of state enforced segregation are gone, segregation because of geographical boundaries remains.
There have been experiments, tests that I have referred to, where the tester goes to a used car buyer and wants to buy a car. So the testers can be white male, African American male, white women, African American women. And the one who gets the highest price is always the African American woman. So there’s that kind of bias. That is still prevalent. You can see it with people trying to get loans to buy homes. That same pattern. So again, we’ve come a long way from the days where there was state enforced segregation. But we still have a way to go.
Maddow mentions Ginsburg's following among today's young people, notably the Notorious R.B.G Tumblr
pages, which include her history, rap songs about Ginsburg, and Notorious RBG T-shirts, which Ginsburg enjoys
with a great sense of humor, and gives as gifts.
So, happy 82nd birthday, Madam Justice!
From all of us who have benefited from your actions on our behalf.
Comments are closed on this story.