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Ayyyeee… What’s Goodie Everyone. So I got some very sad news. Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away September 18 at age 87.
The death was announced by a statement from the U.S. Supreme Court. She had recently been treated for pancreatic cancer.
Born in Brooklyn, Justice Ginsburg excelled academically and went to the top of her law school class at a time when women were still called upon to justify taking a man’s place. She earned a reputation as the legal embodiment of the women’s liberation movement and as a widely admired role model for generations of female lawyers.
In the 1970s she worked with the American Civil Liberties Union, Justice Ginsburg successfully argued a series of cases before the high court that strategically chipped away at the legal wall of gender discrimination, eventually causing it to topple. As a member of the court’s liberal bloc, she was a reliable vote to enhance the rights of women, protect affirmative action and minority voting rights and defend a woman’s right to choose an abortion.
A landmark moment for Justice Ginsburg came in 2011, when the court for the first time opened its term with three female justices. Justice Ginsburg said in an interview with The Washington Post that it would “change the public perception of where women are in the justice system. When the schoolchildren file in and out of the court and they look up and they see three women, then that will seem natural and proper just how it is.”
On the court, Justice Ginsburg’s most notable rulings and dissents advanced feminist causes. In 1996, she authored a groundbreaking decision ordering the Virginia Military Institute to admit women, ending a 157-year tradition of all male education at the state funded school.
Later in her career, discrimination against women was the theme of several forceful dissents Justice Ginsburg read from the bench, a sparingly used bit of theater that justices employ to emphasize deeply held disagreements with a majority opinion.
One among them was a protest of the court’s decision to uphold a federal ban on so-called partial-birth abortions. “The court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety,” Justice Ginsburg wrote. “This way of thinking reflects ancient notions about women’s place in the family and under the Constitution ideas that have long since been discredited.”
In another, she objected to a ruling that said workers may not sue their employers over unequal pay caused by discrimination alleged to have begun years earlier. That case had been filed by Lilly Ledbetter, the lone female supervisor at a tire plant in Gadsden, Alabama who sued after determining she was paid less than male workers.
She called upon Congress to take action on women’s health and once Democrats were in control, it did. Obama signed the law relaxing the deadlines for filing suits.
If the law is often complex, her view of equality was simple, she once said.
“It has always been that girls should have the same opportunity to dream, to aspire and achieve to do whatever their God-given talents enable them to do as boys,” Justice Ginsburg said in a 2015 conversation at the American Constitution Society. “There should be no place where there isn’t a welcome mat for women. . . . That’s what it’s all about: Women and men, working together, should help make the society a better place than it is now.”
Justice Ginsburg, attended Cornell, where on a blind date she met her future husband, Martin Ginsburg, a confident, fun loving fraternity member and a standout on the university’s golf team. She later said he was the first boy she ever dated who cared about what was in her head.
After graduation, Martin Ginsburg enrolled at Harvard Law School while Ruth completed her senior year, graduating first in her class in 1954.
In 1958, Ruth transferred from Harvard to Columbia Law School to complete her legal training. There, she continued to thrive, again making the law review and tying for first in her class at graduation in 1959.
She landed a position as a clerk for a federal district court judge, after a Columbia law professor lined up a man as a replacement in the event Justice Ginsburg faltered.
After her clerkship, Justice Ginsburg signed on for a summer fellowship to study the legal system in Sweden. The six weeks in Stockholm proved to be an awakening, as she was thrust into the midst of that country’s burgeoning debate about gender roles in raising families.
In 1963, Justice Ginsburg became the second woman to join the faculty at New Jersey’s Rutgers Law School. There, her feminist awakening continued
When Justice Ginsburg learned that her salary was lower than that of male colleagues, she joined an equal pay campaign with other female teachers, which resulted in raises for the women.
While teaching at Rutgers, she also began taking on cases on behalf of the New Jersey branch of the ACLU. She battled successfully for maternity leave rights for teachers in New Jersey, who previously faced the threat of dismissal when they became pregnant.
In 1972, Justice Ginsburg became the first woman hired with tenure at Columbia Law School. Around that time, she also became the first director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.
Her early victories at the Supreme Court prompted President Jimmy Carter to appoint her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 1980.
Bill Clinton announced her nomination on June 14, 1993. She was confirmed just over two months later by a 96-to-3 vote.
Justice Ginsburg did most of her work in dissents. She said she most lamented the court’s decisions in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010), which opened the way for greater corporate and union spending in elections, and Shelby County v. Holder (2013), in which the court threw out a key provision of the civil rights-era Voting Rights Act of 1965.
She had colon cancer surgery in 1999, which was accompanied by precautionary chemotherapy and radiation treatment, but she never missed a day of oral arguments. And in February 2009, she underwent surgery for early-stage pancreatic cancer but managed to return to the bench when the court returned from recess less than three weeks later.
It was the final day of the court’s term, and she had an opinion to deliver. She thought of having another justice read the summary for her, but her children insisted she go herself, saying it was what their father would have wanted.
Justice Ginsburg’s survivors include two children, Jane C. Ginsburg and James S. Ginsburg; four grandchildren; two step-grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.