An already horrific, awful year filled with tragedies has managed to get worse. Tonight, the Supreme Court released the following announcement:
Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died this evening surrounded by her family at her home in Washington, D.C., due to complications of metastatic pancreas cancer. She was eighty-seven years old.
Justice Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Clinton in 1993. She was the second woman appointed to the Court and served more than twenty-seven years.
She is survived by her two children: Jane Carol Ginsburg (George Spera) and James Steven Ginsburg (Patrice Michaels), four grandchildren: Paul Spera (Francesca Toich), Clara Spera (Rory Boyd), Miranda Ginsburg, Abigail Ginsburg, two step-grandchildren: Harjinder Bedi, Satinder Bedi, and one great-grandchild: Lucrezia Spera. Her husband, Martin David Ginsburg, died in 2010.
All of us at NPI extend our deepest condolences to the Ginsburg family and all of her friends. This is news of the worst and most grievous kind. Justice Ginsburg was one of our brightest lights: a formidable jurist, staunch advocate for women’s rights, and a trailblazer for others. RBG, as she is affectionately known to so many, leaves a profound and powerful legacy that we must celebrate.
Justice Ginsburg was born on March 15th, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York City, to observant Jewish parents Celia and Nathan Bader. Though her given name was Joan, she became known as Ruth (her middle name) at her mother’s suggestion, since several other girls in her class also had the first name Joan.
Though a bright pupil, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s senior year was not a happy one, as her mother died from cancer the day before she graduated from James Madison High School. Though the pain of losing her mother at age seventeen must have been immense, Bader Ginsburg did not let it deter her from giving college her all.
She excelled at Cornell, becoming the highest-ranking female student in her graduating class. While attending Cornell, she met Martin Ginsburg, and they married just a month after she earned her bachelor of arts degree in government.
Ginsburg was accepted to Harvard’s College of Law in 1954, only one of nine women in a class numbering around five hundred.
She transferred to Columbia University to complete her legal studies after Martin Ginsburg took a job in New York City. Ginsburg was on the Harvard Law Review prior to transferring; she joined the Columbia Law Review after transferring, becoming the first woman to have contributed to both publications.
Ginsburg remained at Columbia University after graduating as research associate; she also clerked for Judge Edmund L. Palmieri of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York during her twenties.
In 1963, Ginsburg was hired at Rutgers. Although she was not compensated fairly, she stuck with the university and eventually became a tenured professor. During her time at Rutgers, she founded the pioneering Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the first publication of its kind devoted to women’s rights. She returned to Columbia University in 1972 and served on the faculty there until 1980.
That same year (1972), Ginsburg co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The following year, she took on the important role of the project’s general counsel and argued a series of landmark discrimination cases before the Supreme Court, winning five out of six.
In 1980, Ginsburg’s time in academia came to an end when she was nominated by President Jimmy Carter to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, succeeding Judge Harold Leventhal. Ginsburg held this position until 1993, when she was nominated by President Bill Clinton to serve on the United States Supreme Court. At the time Ginsburg was nominated, the Supreme Court had just one female justice: Sandra Day O’Connor.
The United States Senate confirmed Ginsburg’s Supreme Court nomination, just as it had confirmed her Circuit Court nomination thirteen years prior.
So it was that in 1993, Ginsburg began the final chapter of her pioneering and remarkable life. Perhaps no Justice has ever been better known to the American people than she was. Like other noteworthy Americans who served during the twentieth century (FDR, JFK, LBJ), Ginsburg came to be known simply as “RBG”, or sometimes, the Notorious RBG. She became the most senior member of the Supreme Court’s liberal bloc during Barack Obama’s presidency, owing to the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens (who was succeeded by Elena Kagan).
Both during the time of the Rehnquist Court and the successive Roberts Court, Justice Ginsburg was a dependable vote and a strong voice for all of the causes that America’s most distinguished historical figures were associated with, like civil rights, voting rights, labor rights, environmental protection, and access to justice.
During the Bush years, the Obama years, and the Trump years, Ginsburg authored (and sometimes also read) an impressive series of incredibly powerful dissents that expertly tore apart the immoral rationales on which a series of bad Supreme Court decisions handed down by the Court’s right wing bloc were based.
In other instances, such as when Anthony Kennedy defected from the Court’s right wing bloc to back marriage equality, or when John Roberts defected to uphold the Patient Protection Act, Justice Ginsburg participated in the issuance of historic decisions that made the United States a better and freer country.
It is impossible to do justice to Justice Ginsburg’s career, life, and legacy in a blog post, even a long one. There’s a good reason that books have been written about her and movies made about her. She was an exemplary activist, a jurist of the highest caliber, a truly great American, and an exceptional human being.
But we would be remiss if we did not try to honor Justice Ginsburg to the best of our ability tonight and in the days to come. Physically, in life, Justice Ginsburg was not a towering figure. Metaphorically, though, in so many ways, she was a giant. Her decades of courage and persistence should inspire us all.
These are unquestionably dark days, filled with tragedy. Bad news seems to be the only certainty right now. But Justice Ginsburg wouldn’t want us to mark her passing by sinking into a well of despair. She’d want us to celebrate her life and then fight on, like she did, until her last breath. Fight ’em till we can’t — that was what I remarked that we needed to do almost four years ago when it became evident the Electoral College would give Donald Trump the presidency.
Until we have all followed Justice Ginsburg’s example, the fight cannot be over.
Thank you, Justice Ginsburg, for everything. Thank you for nearly four decades of honorable service in our federal courts, including the highest court in the land. Thank you for smashing down barriers that enabled discrimination on the basis of sex and gender identity. Thank you for caring about the rights of all people, and the future of our planet. Thank you for showing us what it means to overcome adversity and hardship. We will miss you. But we’ll never forget you.