Ruth Bader Ginsburg Reflects on Her Place in HistoryBreaking News
tags: Supreme Court, womens history, Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Does Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the 86-year-old feminist icon, have any regrets about her professional life?
"I do think that I was born under a very bright star," Ginsburg said, recounting her life and the obstacles that faced her.
Ginsburg added: "I'll tell you what Justice [Sandra Day] O'Connor once said to me. She said, 'Suppose we had come of age at a time when women lawyers were welcome at the bar. You know what? Today, we would be retired partners from some large law firm, but because that route was not open to us, we had to find another way, and we both end up in the United States Supreme Court.' "
Ginsburg graduated from Columbia Law School at the top of her class in 1959, but she was well aware of the barriers to women. She "didn't think there was much to be done about it." She clerked for a U.S. District Court judge, but "no law firm in the city of New York" would "hire me," she said.
She worked on a project on civil procedure that took her to Sweden before she eventually took a job at Rutgers Law School in New Jersey in 1963.
"Then the women's movement came alive at the end of the '60s," and "there I was, a law school professor with time that I could devote to moving along this change."
That is an understatement.
For more than a decade prior to her first judicial appointment in 1980, Ginsburg led the legal fight for gender equality. And, in our interview last week, she singled out that work, not any of her Supreme Court opinions, as perhaps her greatest accomplishment.
"In the '70s, there were many things that came together that led the court for the first time" in its history "to strike down gender classifications as unconstitutional, as a denial of equal protection of the laws," Ginsburg said. "That was an exhilarating 10 years in my life. In doing that, and then this job, well, it really is the best job in the world for a judge."
The highlights of her crusade in the 1960s and '70s are recounted in two recent movies — RBG, a documentary, and On The Basis Of Sex, a biopic.
Ginsburg's first Supreme Court victory came in 1971 when she filed the lead brief in Reed v. Reed, a case testing whether a state could automatically prefer men over women as executors of estates. The answer was, "No."
It was the first time the Supreme Court had ever struck down a state law because it discriminated based on gender. And that was just the beginning.
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