Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg paved the way for women everywhere to pursue their dreams.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an American hero, a woman who dedicated her life to improving the lives of others through her expertise in the legal system. A powerhouse pioneer, Justice Ginsburg was respected for not only her brilliant legal mind, but her unwavering tenacity to break the boundaries exercised onto her and other women because of their sex. At only five feet one inch tall, Justice Ginsburg was a tiny but mighty force on the Supreme Court, challenging the status quo to ensure that the Constitution protected the legal rights of all Americans.
Nominated to the Supreme Court in 1993 by then President Bill Clinton, Justice Ginsburg’s potential placement was already breaking barriers within the makeup of the current court. With her confirmation Justice Ginsburg became the second woman, and the first Jewish woman to fill a seat on the Supreme Court. Seen as a moderate, Justice Ginsburg’s placement was expected to settle legal discrepancies between the liberal and conservative justices.
During her tenure on the court Justice Ginsburg always made the preservation, and the increase in women’s rights as a priority of hers in rulings. For example, in 1996 Justice Ginsburg authored the court’s decision on United States v. Virginia ruling that it was unconstitutional for the Virginia Military Institute to implement a men only admission policy to exclude women from applying to their institution. This ruling was a breakthrough in preventing institutions from excluding women from educational opportunities on the basis of their sex.
Although Justice Ginsburg initially displayed a moderate legal interpretation on the court, as the legal identities of the upcoming appointed justices became more conservative Justice Ginsburg proved that she was not afraid to present a dissenting opinion. In 2007 she dissented in the ruling on the Ledbetter v. Goodyear, which prevented a woman from receiving financial compensation for a previous job in which she was paid less than her male counterparts for the same work. The court ruled that the statue of limitations had passed in this case, therefore, refusing to rule in favor of compensation.
In response to this ruling Justice Ginsburg advocated for reform to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in order to prevent such rulings from continuing. Following her advocacy Congress passed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, named after the woman who presented her own case to the Supreme Court.
For the majority of her life, there was one person who stood by her, who supported, and respected her for who she was, and believed in who she could be: her husband Martin. Known as ‘Marty’ by those closest to him, Martin Ginsburg was his wife’s biggest supporter, and advocate throughout her legal career. A successful lawyer in his own right, Martin was instrumental in Justice Ginsburg’s nomination to the Supreme Court, using his influence and connections to advocate for her consideration.
Raised in an era where women were not expected to be nor accepted in the professional world, Martin never felt threatened or embarrassed of his wife’s successes, instead he chose to be her partner, remaining faithful, and supportive of her dreams. His care and companionship gave Justice Ginsburg the confidence in the home, in order to make change in the outside world.
Through adolescence her mother Celia remained a source of encouragement, and inspiration for Justice Ginsburg. Unable to receive an education for herself, Celia was determined that her daughter would be given the opportunity to learn. Justice Ginsburg often cited her mother as a role model, and leader for herself.
Justice Ginsburg served on the Supreme Court for 27 years, one of the longest serving justices on the bench. She battled several health issues, persevering through five rounds of cancer. On September 18, 2020 Justice Ginsburg died from complications of pancreatic cancer. She was 87.
Following her death thousands of mourners from all over the country traveled to Washington D.C. to pay their respects. Even in death Justice Ginsburg continued to break barriers; at the Capitol Justice Ginsburg lay in state, becoming the first woman, and the first Jewish person to do so. Justice Ginsburg was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery next to her beloved husband who died in 2010.
Although Justice Ginsburg is gone her spirit will live on in the hearts of all those she touched. She has inspired generations of women, including me, to follow a career into the legal profession, or more so, to pursue a career of their choosing. Her tenacity, courage, and wisdom will forever be cherished by thousands of people all over the country who may never have known her personally, but were impacted by her example. Her quiet determination displays leadership, someone to learn from, and be inspired by.
As a pioneer of final words, it seems only fitting, that the end to this tribute should conclude with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s own, a source of encouragement to all: “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
Melanie Moyer '22,