Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been a Supreme Court Justice for 25 years — here’s a look at the trailblazer’s life and career

The Notorious RBG.

caption
The Notorious RBG.
source
Allison Shelley/Getty Images

  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a left-leaning Associate Justice on the Supreme Court. And a a pop culture icon.
  • She has been on the Supreme Court for 25 years.
  • Here’s how she went from the daughter of an immigrant without a high school degree to one of the most important legal influences of her time.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg spent decades as a trailblazer in gender equality law before she became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court – and a pop culture icon.

She’s been on the nation’s highest court for exactly 25 years, ever since she took her oath on August 10, 1993.

Keep reading below to find out more about how the daughter of an immigrant in the fur business became one of the most important legal influences of her time.


Joan Ruth Bader was born in 1933 in Brooklyn. She became known by her middle name because there were too many “Joans” in her elementary school.

Source:Achievement, “My Own Words”


Ruth’s father, who was born in Russia and never attended high school, worked in fur. Her mother, Celia, was highly intellectual but wasn’t able to attend college or pursue her own career.

caption
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in 1977
source
Lynn Gilbert/Wikimedia Commons

Source:Achievement


Celia took Ruth to the library every week and encouraged a love of education in her daughter. But, after struggling with cancer for years, Celia died before Ruth graduated from high school.

source
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Source:Achievement


She attended Cornell University and graduated in 1954 at the top of her class.

source
Lewis Liu/Shutterstock

Source:Oyez


A month later, she married her classmate Martin Ginsburg, who she had met on a blind date her freshman year. She put her career on hold for several years as she gave birth to her first child, Jane.

Source:Oyez


In 1956, two years after graduating college, Ginsburg enrolled at Harvard Law School, where Martin was also a student. She was one of just nine women in the class of more than 500.

Source:Achievement


The law dean reportedly invited the nine female students in the class to dinner and asked, “How do you justify taking a spot from a qualified man?” Ginsburg said she gave “the answer he expected”: “My husband is a second-year law student, and it’s important for a woman to understand her husband’s work.”

Source: The New York Times


Meanwhile, Ginsburg had won a seat on the Harvard Law Review. She was also caring for her young baby and for Martin as he was suffering from testicular cancer — even attending his classes and writing his papers.

Source:Achievement


Martin eventually recovered and joined a law firm in New York City. Ginsburg transferred to Columbia Law School, earning a seat on their law review and graduating tied for first in the class in 1959.

Source:Achievement


Despite that stellar academic record, Ginsburg had issues finding a job. Many law firms had signs for applicants that read, “Men Only.” Her Jewish background also didn’t help.

Source: The New York Times


So, Ginsburg didn’t go through law firms. She accepted a courtship with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and, after two years, began working at Columbia Law’s Project on International Procedure.

source
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Source:Achievement


Ginsburg quickly became an associate director of the Project on International Procedure. One of her early projects was studying the Swedish legal system; she also taught herself Swedish.

Source:Achievement


Ginsburg later said the private sector’s rejection was ultimately beneficial. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have gotten this unique opportunities in academia and the government.

The Notorious RBG.

source
Allison Shelley/Getty Images

Source: The New York Times


She became a law professor at Rutgers University in 1963, where she continued to study Swedish law. Through her studies of Sweden, she became more interested in gender equality issues.

source
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Source:Achievement


Ginsburg founded The Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the first American law journal on gender equality issues, in 1970. She then wrote the first textbook on sex discrimination law in 1974.

source
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Source:Achievement


At that time, gender issues were seen as unimportant, and studying them could hamper a woman’s career. “The concern was that if a woman was doing gender equality, her chances of making it to tenure in the law school were diminished,” Ginsburg told The New York Times in 2015. “It was considered frivolous.”

source
Paul Morigi/Getty Images for ELLE

Source: The New York Times


But the focus certainly didn’t hamper her career. Ginsburg joined the faculty at Columbia University Law School in 1972.

source
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Getty Images

Source:Achievement


And, through her know-how in gender equality law, she founded the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project and began arguing cases on discrimination before the US Supreme Court.

Source:Achievement, Oyez


One landmark case Ginsburg argued before the Supreme Court involved a county in Missouri that allowed women to opt out of jury duty on request. That meant women comprised less than 15% of jurors in that county. Ginsburg argued that this violated the Sixth Amendment, and also implied that this meant that women jurors were less valuable than male opinions. Her arguments led a vote in her favor by 8-1.

source
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Source:Justia


In 1980, Ginsburg was appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where she served for 13 years. Her husband Martin followed her to DC, becoming a professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

Source:Achievement


In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Ginsburg as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court. She was the second woman to serve and the first Jewish woman.

Source:Achievement


Ginsburg was originally selected for being a moderate and a consensus builder, but she’s now one of most left-leaning justices on the Court.

Source: FiveThirtyEight, LA Times


Some of Ginsburg’s landmark opinions as a justice included her opinion written on the insider trading case of United States v. O’Hagan and male-only admissions at the Virginia Military Institute.

Source:Justia, Justia


As an Associate Justice, Ginsburg’s two children grew and found their own paths in adulthood. Her older child, Jane, is a law professor at Columbia and her younger one, James, owns a record label in Chicago.

Source:Achievement


Her husband Marty, who Ginsburg called her “biggest booster” and “an extraordinary man,” passed away in 2010.

Source: The New York Times


By 2014, at which point she was in her early 80s, Ginsburg had become a pop culture icon — taking on the nickname Notorious R.B.G.


“(P)eople really find her politics powerful,” said the creator of the Notorious RGB blog. “She’s standing up to the conservative majority, who also happen to be men. She is an image of feminist rebellion, while still being a demure, quiet person in real life.”

caption
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC in March.
source
Allison Shelley/Getty

Source: Business Insider


Ginsburg’s policies aren’t the only thing her devotees admire her for — they even try to follow her workouts, which are one-hour long and involve push-ups, planks, and squats.

source
Elana Lyn Gross

Source: Business Insider


Ginsburg beat colon cancer in 1999 and pancreatic cancer in 2009, barely missing any days on the bench.

source
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Source:Achievement


At 85, people are predicting when Ginsburg will retire. But she’s indicated that they shouldn’t wait around for her to leave any time soon: “As long as I can do the job full steam, I will be here.”

source
Liaison/Getty

Source: Washington Examiner