Ruth bader ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court and its most determined advocate for gender equality, has died at the age of 87. She had suffered multiple episodes of cancer before succumbing to the disease.
Unlike most Supreme Court justices, in her later life she became a national cult figure. She has been nicknamed “The Notorious RBG”; movies and TV programs were made about it; even her exercise regimen was eagerly followed, which she took with typical modesty and a wry smile.
Her beginnings in her professional life embodied the discrimination practiced against women. She was a brilliant student, who graduated tied for first in her class at Columbia Law School, after participating in the prestigious Harvard Law Review. Yet all of his applications for New York law firms were rejected. Supreme Court Judge Felix Frankfurter even refused to grant him an internship interview.
She turned that experience into a lifelong crusade, operating inside and not outside the legal system, as a university professor, lawyer and judge. Her elevation to the highest bench in 1993 by President Bill Clinton was recognition of her tremendous achievement, and her court service, where she was among its most liberal members in a conservative era, was also distinguished.
Ruth Joan Bader was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 15, 1933, the daughter of Jewish immigrants. Her father, a furrier and haberdasher, emigrated from Ukraine to the United States, and her mother was born in New York to Austrian parents. She received her first degree from Cornell University, where she met and married Martin Ginsburg after graduation.
The couple, already with a first child, Jane, then entered Harvard Law School. She was diagnosed with cancer and while recovering she covered her classes for him. When he was then recruited by a New York law firm, they moved to the city and she registered with Columbia. After her initial refusals, she got her first internship with Edmund Palmieri, a federal judge, who later ranked him as one of her best lawyers of all time.
After three years on a Columbia project on the Swedish justice system, which required her to learn the language, she joined Rutgers University law school, only the second woman on her team. But she didn’t have a college tenure, so she disguised her second pregnancy, her son James, by wearing her mother’s looser clothes.
This experience, animated by the reading of Simone de Beauvoir The second sex, moved her throughout the field of gender discrimination, both at Rutgers and later at Columbia and as a volunteer lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, where she was to become general counsel in the 1970s. In this capacity, she argued six discrimination cases before the Supreme Court, winning five of them, including a landmark social security benefit decision in which she represented a widower.
Such was her reputation that President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit in 1980. The couple moved to Washington where her husband became a law professor at Georgetown University. Appointing her to a vacant Supreme Court post in 1993 upon the retirement of Justice Byron White, Mr. Clinton said he was looking for someone with “a keen mind, sound judgment, extensive legal and legal experience. real people’s problems, and someone with a big heart ”.
Although joined a year later by another Liberal, Judge Stephen Breyer, it was a Conservative-dominated tribunal, with the two candidates Clinton and two judges appointed by Republican presidents John Paul Stevens and David Souter , in the invariable minority unless they can win the support, on certain issues, of their more independent-minded conservative colleagues. This balance has not been altered by the subsequent appointments of right-wing judges by President George W. Bush and Donald Trump, only partially offset by the two nominees of Barack Obama.
However, she joined the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. While ideologically distant, they combined to thwart successive challenges from Roe vs. Wade, with the 1973 ruling establishing a woman’s right to abort a pregnancy. She was also, along with Justice Breyer, convinced that the Supreme Court should not ignore foreign legal precedents and practice in setting standards for the United States.
On occasion, she departed from the convention of dissenting decisions by written opinions and delivered them orally from the bench. Most strikingly, after a 2007 ruling against the practice known as ‘partial birth’ (late term) abortion, she trembled in anger as she said that protecting reproductive rights was not an issue. of a vague and generalized notion of private life ”, but of“ the autonomy of a woman to decide for herself the course of her life, and thus to enjoy a status of equal citizenship ”.
Yet her steadfast convictions did not prevent her from forming a warm relationship with the chief court ideologue on the right, Judge Antonin Scalia, a frequent table companion and another opera lover (she appeared a times as an extra in a Washington Opera production) with whom she was pictured once on an elephant. His other hobbies included skiing, both on snow and water, and horseback riding.
His judicial heritage is considerable, in particular because of the precision and the quality of his opinions, often sober in language but always logical. Inside a tiny body lived a very large spirit with admirers numbering in the millions. Her husband passed away in 2010 and she is survived by her two children.