Flowers and gifts left in memoriam at US Supreme Court honoring Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – WASHINGTON – September 19, 2020 (Shutterstock)
You might have heard a lot of people talking about US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but who was she and why was she so important?
She was only the second woman ever to sit as a justice on the nation’s highest court – where she served for 27 years – and was a trailblazer for women’s rights.
People around the world have been paying tribute to her after she died of cancer at the age of 87 on Friday.
US President Donald Trump described her as an “amazing woman”. He is due to announce his candidate to fill the vacancy at the Supreme Court this week.
So who was Ruth Bader Ginsburg and why was she so important?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1933. Her dad was a Jewish immigrant and her mum was born in New York to Polish parents.
In 1956, Ginsburg became one of nine women accepted to Harvard Law School, out of a class of about 500. The dean there famously asked his female students tell him how they could justify taking the place of a man at his school.
Ginsburg finished top of her class, but still did not receive a single job offer after graduation.
“Not a law firm in the entire city of New York would employ me,” she later said. “I struck out on three grounds: I was Jewish, a woman and a mother.”
Eventually, Ginsburg became a professor at Rutgers Law School, where she taught some of the first classes on women and the law.
Then in 1971, she made her first successful argument before the Supreme Court – marking the first time the Supreme Court had struck down a law because of gender-based discrimination.
What is gender-based discrimination?
This is when men and women are treated differently because of their gender, rather than on the basis of their skills or capabilities.
The next year, Ginsburg became the first female professor at Columbia Law School and she co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Soon, she was the ACLU’s general counsel (meaning she represented it in court,) and launched a series of gender-discrimination cases. Six of these brought her before the Supreme Court – and she won five!
She had a very clever and strategic approach – she thought it was best to take down sexist laws and policies one by one, instead of asking the Supreme Court to outlaw all rules that treat men and women unequally.
She was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton after a lengthy search process. Ginsburg was the second woman confirmed to that bench, following Sandra Day O’Connor, who was nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
10 powerful quotes from Ruth Bader Ginsburg
1. “Reading is the key that opens doors to many good things in life. Reading shaped my dreams, and more reading helped me make my dreams come true.”
2. “Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”
3. “When contemplated in its extreme, almost any power looks dangerous.”
4. “When I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women judges on the US Supreme Court bench] 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.”
5. “Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
6. “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”
7. “A constitution, as important as it is, will mean nothing unless the people are yearning for liberty and freedom.”
8. “I became a lawyer for selfish reasons. I thought I could do a lawyer’s job better than any other.”
9. “I just try to do the good job that I have to the best of my ability and I really don’t think about whether I’m inspirational. I just do the best I can.”
10. “I would like to be remembered 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.”