Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died at 87 years old. Ginsburg, one of America’s longest-serving judges, passed away of complications from pancreatic cancer. Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts said: “Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature. We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague.”
Justice Ginsburg stands as a feminist icon. Ginsburg helped start and then run the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU, where she argued six sex discrimination lawsuits before the Supreme Court (before she was a justice there). She won five of those cases – a remarkable achievement, and one that changed forever how men and women were regarded under the law.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave her husband, Martin, credit for an idea she thought helped her win. She chose male plaintiffs, hoping they would be more sympathetic. Her success came both from plaintiff selection and an excellent presentation of the arguments. In Craig v. Boren, for example, she successfully argued that an Oklahoma law allowing women to purchase beer at 18, but forbidding men from doing so until 21, was gender-based discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
Speaking last year, Justice Ginsburg said:
“If I am notorious, it is because I had the good fortune to be alive and a lawyer in the late 1960s [and into the 1970s, when it] became possible to urge before courts, successfully, that equal justice under law required all arms of government to regard women as persons equal in stature to men.”
She went on to say that, although we “have not reached Nirvana” in terms of equality, “the progress I have seen in my lifetime makes me optimistic for the future.”
Point Guard on the Court
Ginsburg was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, and she became known for her commitment to left-wing politics in the law, as well as her longevity.
A few short years after she joined the Supreme Court, she authored the 7-1 opinion on government facilities or programs that discriminate on the basis of sex. Justice Ginsburg’s majority opinion struck down the sex-based exclusion of women from the Virginia Military Institute, a public school. She wrote:
“Neither federal nor state government acts compatibly with equal protection when a law or official policy denies to women, simply because they are women, full citizenship stature – equal opportunity to aspire, achieve, participate in and contribute to society based on their individual talents and capacities.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was famously friends with Antonin Scalia, a Supreme Court Justice she seldom agreed with on law or politics. She was, by all accounts, a devoted wife and mother. She met her husband as an undergrad at Cornell. As Ginsburg herself put it: “He was the first boy I ever knew who cared that I had a brain.”
Ginsburg was also the subject of a movie about her life in 2018, On the Basis of Sex, which portrayed her fight against gender discrimination in the 1960s and 70s.