Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg (born March 15, 1933) is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Ginsburg was appointed by President Bill Clinton and took the oath of office on August 10, 1993. She is the second female justice (after Sandra Day O'Connor) and one of three female justices currently serving on the Supreme Court (along with Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan). [3]

She is generally viewed as belonging to the liberal wing of the Court. Before becoming a judge, Ginsburg spent a considerable portion of her legal career as an advocate for the advancement of women's rights as a constitutional principle. She advocated as a volunteer lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union and was a member of its board of directors and one of its general counsel in the 1970s. She was a professor at Rutgers School of Law–Newark and Columbia Law School. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Early life and education

Born in Brooklyn, New York City, Ruth Joan Bader is the second daughter of Nathan and Celia ( née Amster) Bader, Russian Jewish immigrants, who lived in the Flatbush neighborhood. [4] The Baders' older daughter, Marylin, died at age 6 when Ruth was still young. [5] The family nicknamed Ruth "Kiki". [6] They belonged to the East Midwood Jewish Center. At age thirteen, Ruth acted as the "camp rabbi " at a Jewish summer program at Camp Che-Na-Wah in Minerva, New York. [6]

Her mother took an active role in her education, taking her to the library often. [6] Celia had been a good student in her youth, graduating from high school at age 15, yet could not further her own education because her family chose to send her brother to college instead. Celia wanted to see her daughter get more of an education, which she thought would allow Bader to become a high school history teacher. [7] Bader attended James Madison High School, whose law program later dedicated a courtroom in her honor. Her mother struggled with cancer throughout Bader's high school years and died the day before her graduation. [6]

Bader attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where she was a member of Alpha Epsilon Phi. [8] While at Cornell she met Martin D. Ginsburg at age 17. [7] She graduated from Cornell with a Bachelor of Arts degree in government on June 23, 1954. [8] Bader married Martin Ginsburg a month after her graduation from Cornell, and followed her new husband to Fort Sill, Oklahoma where he was stationed as an ROTC Officer in the Army Reserve called up for active duty. [9] [2] [7] At age 21, she worked for the Social Security office in Oklahoma where she was demoted after becoming pregnant with her first child. [5] She gave birth to a daughter in 1955. [5]

In fall 1956, she enrolled at Harvard Law School, where she was one of nine women in a class of about 500. [2] [2] The Dean of Harvard Law reportedly asked the female law students, including Ginsburg, “How do you justify taking a spot from a qualified man?” [7] When her husband took a job in New York City, she transferred to Columbia Law School and became the first woman to be on two major law reviews, the Harvard Law Review and the Columbia Law Review . In 1959 she earned her Bachelor of Laws at Columbia and tied for first in her class. [6]

Early career

At the start of her legal career, Ginsburg faced difficulty finding employment being a wife and mother of a five-year old daughter. [14] In 1960, despite a strong recommendation from a dean of Harvard Law School, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter turned down Ginsburg for a clerkship position because of her gender. [2] [2] Later that year, Ginsburg began a clerkship for Judge Edmund L. Palmieri of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. [5]

From 1961 to 1963, she was a research associate and then associate director of the Columbia Law School Project on International Procedure, learning Swedish to co-author a book with Anders Bruzelius on civil procedure in Sweden. [2] [2] Ginsburg conducted extensive research for her book at Lund University in Sweden.

She was a professor of law, mainly Civil Procedure, at Rutgers from 1963 to 1972, receiving tenure from the school in 1969. [21] [22] In 1970 she co-founded the Women's Rights Law Reporter , the first law journal in the U.S. to focus exclusively on women's rights. [24] Ginsburg volunteered to write the brief for Reed v. Reed , 404 U.S. 71 (1971), wherein the Supreme Court Court extended the protections of the Equal Protection Clause to women for the first time. [22] [25]

From 1972 until 1980, she taught at Columbia, where she became the first tenured woman and co-authored the first law school casebook on sex discrimination. [22] In 1972, Ginsburg co-founded the Women's Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and, in 1973, she became the ACLU's General Counsel. [26] As the chief litigator for the Women's Rights Project, she briefed and argued several landmark cases in front of the Supreme Court. Having previously argued Reed v. Reed , she took on cases like Frontiero v. Richardson , 411 U.S. 677 (1973) and Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld , 420 U.S. 636 (1975), which supported the ultimate development and application of the intermediate scrutiny Equal Protection standard of review for legal classifications based on sex. [27] She attained a reputation as a skilled oral advocate and her work directly led to the end of gender discrimination in many areas of the law. [28] In 1977, she became a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.

Her last case as a lawyer before the Court was 1978's Duren v. Missouri , which challenged the validity of voluntary jury duty for women. In Ginsburg's view, women's participation in a government service as vital as jury duty should not be optional. At the end of Ginsburg's oral presentation, then-Associate Justice William Rehnquist asked Ginsburg, "You won't settle for putting Susan B. Anthony on the new dollar, then?" [29] Ginsburg said she considered responding "We won't settle for tokens," but instead opted not to answer the question. [29]

Judicial career

U.S. Court of Appeals

President Jimmy Carter appointed Ginsburg to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on April 14, 1980, to the seat of recently deceased judge Harold Leventhal. [30] She served there for 13 years, until joining the Supreme Court. During her tenure on the D.C. Circuit, Ginsburg made 57 hires for law clerk, intern, and secretary positions. At her Supreme Court confirmation hearing, it was revealed that none of those hired had been African-American, a fact for which Ginsburg (an "aggressive support[er] [of] disparate-impact statistics as evidence of intentional discrimination") was sharply criticized. [4]

Supreme Court

Nomination and confirmation

President Bill Clinton nominated her as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on June 14, 1993, to fill the seat vacated by retiring Justice Byron White. Ginsburg was recommended to Clinton by then-U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno after a suggestion by U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). [4] At the time of her nomination, Ginsburg was viewed as a moderate. President Clinton was reportedly looking to increase the Court's diversity, which Ginsburg did as the first Jewish justice since the 1969 retirement of Justice Abe Fortas and as only the second female appointee. [33] [34] The American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary rated Ginsburg as "well qualified," its highest possible rating for a prospective justice. [35]

During her subsequent testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee as part of the confirmation hearings, she refused to answer questions regarding her view on the constitutionality of some issues, such as the death penalty. Ginsburg declined to give her view on the constitutionality of the death penalty, as it was an issue which she might have to vote on if it came before the court. [36] Ginsburg refused to discuss her beliefs about the limits and proper role of jurisprudence, saying, "Were I to rehearse here what I would say and how I would reason on such questions, I would act injudiciously."

At the same time, Ginsburg did answer questions relating to some potentially controversial issues. For instance, she affirmed her belief in a constitutional right to privacy and explicated at some length on her personal judicial philosophy and thoughts regarding gender equality. [4] Ginsburg was more forthright in discussing her views on topics about which she had previously written. The U.S. Senate confirmed her by a 96 to 3 vote and she took her judicial oath on August 10, 1993. [39]

Ginsburg's name was later invoked during the confirmation process of John Roberts. Ginsburg herself was not the first nominee to avoid answering certain specific questions before Congress, and as a young lawyer in 1981 John Roberts had advised against Supreme Court nominees giving specific responses. Nevertheless, some conservative commentators and Senators invoked the phrase "Ginsburg precedent" to defend Roberts demurrers. [35] [40] In a September 28, 2005, speech at Wake Forest University, Ginsburg said that Roberts' refusal to answer questions during his Senate confirmation hearings on some cases was "unquestionably right". [41]

Supreme Court jurisprudence

Ginsburg characterizes her performance on the Court as a cautious approach to adjudication. She argued in a speech shortly before her nomination to the Court that "[m]easured motions seem to me right, in the main, for constitutional as well as common law adjudication. Doctrinal limbs too swiftly shaped, experience teaches, may prove unstable." [43]

With the retirement of Justice Stevens, Ginsburg became the senior member of what is sometimes referred to as the Court's "liberal wing." [44] [45] [22] When the Court splits 5-4 among ideological lines and the liberal justices are in the minority, Ginsburg has the authority to assign authorship of the dissenting opinion. [44] Ginsburg has been a proponent of the liberal dissenters speaking "with one voice" and, where practicable, presenting a unified approach to which all of the dissenting justices can agree. [44] [22]

Although Ginsburg has consistently supported abortion rights and joined in the Court's opinion striking down Nebraska's partial-birth abortion law in Stenberg v. Carhart 530 U.S. (2000), on the fortieth anniversary of the Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade 410 U.S. (1973), she criticized the decision as terminating a nascent democratic movement to liberalize abortion laws which might have built a more durable consensus in support of abortion rights. [46]

She discussed her views on abortion rights and sexual equality in a 2009 New York Times interview, in which she said regarding abortion that "[t]he basic thing is that the government has no business making that choice for a woman." [47] One statement she made during the interview ("Frankly, I had thought at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don't want to have too many of.") [47] was criticized by conservative commentator Michael Gerson as reflecting an "attitude...that abortion is economically important to a 'woman of means' and useful in reducing the number of social undesirables." [48]

Ginsburg has also been an advocate for using foreign law and norms to shape U.S. law in judicial opinions, [49] in contrast to the textualist views of her colleagues Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Clarence Thomas, and Justice Samuel Alito.

Selected court opinions

Other activities

Ginsburg administered, at his request, Vice President Al Gore's oath of office to a second term during the second presidential inauguration of Clinton on January 20, 1997. [50]

In January 2012, Ginsburg went to Egypt for four days of discussions with judges, law school faculty, law school students, and legal experts. Part of the purpose of her visit was to "listen and learn" as Egypt began its constitutional transition to democracy. She also answered questions about the American justice system and the American Constitution. Ginsburg told students at Cairo University that she was "inspired" by the Egyptian revolution. [51] [52]

In an interview with Alhayat TV, she stated that the first requirement of a new constitution should be that it "safeguard basic fundamental human rights, like our First Amendment". Asked if Egypt should model its new constitution on those of other nations, she said Egypt should be "aided by all Constitution-writing that has gone on since the end of World War II", adding, "I would not look to the U.S. Constitution, if I were drafting a Constitution in the year 2012. I might look at the Constitution of South Africa. That was a deliberate attempt to have a fundamental instrument of government that embraced basic human rights, had an independent judiciary. ... It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done. Much more recent than the U.S. Constitution." She said the U.S. was fortunate to have a constitution authored by "very wise" men but pointed out that in the 1780s no women were able to participate in the process and slavery still existed in the U.S. [53]

On August 31, 2013, Ginsburg officiated at the same-sex wedding of Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser and John Roberts, a government economist. This is believed to be a first for a Supreme Court justice. [54]

On July 8, 2016, in an interview with The New York Times , Ginsburg said she could not "imagine what the country would be ... with Donald Trump as our president". [55] She later apologized for criticizing the presumptive Republican nominee, calling her remarks "ill-advised". [56]

Personal life

A few days after graduating from Cornell, Ruth Bader married Martin D. Ginsburg, later an internationally prominent tax lawyer, and then (after they moved from New York to Washington DC, upon her accession to the D.C. Circuit) professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center. Their daughter Jane Ginsburg (born 1955) is a professor at Columbia Law School. Their son James Steven Ginsburg (born 1965) is founder and president of Cedille Records, a classical-music recording company based in Chicago, Illinois. Ginsburg is also a grandmother of four. [57]

After the birth of their daughter, her husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer. During this period, Ginsburg attended class and took notes for both of them, typed her husband's papers to his dictation, and cared for their daughter and her sick husband – all while making the Harvard Law Review . They celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary on June 23, 2010. Martin Ginsburg died of complications from metastatic cancer on June 27, 2010. [58] They spoke publicly of being in shared earning/shared parenting marriage, including in a speech Martin Ginsburg wrote and had intended to give prior to his death and Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered posthumously. [59]

Although raised in a Jewish home, Ginsburg became non-observant when she was excluded from the minyan for mourners following the death of her mother. There was a "house full of women," but Ginsburg, as a woman, was excluded. Orthodox Judaism requires that 10 Bar Mitzvahed men be present for a minyan and women are excluded from being counted. She notes that her attitude might be different now, following her attendance at a bat mitzvah ceremony in a more liberal stream of Judaism, where the rabbi and cantor were both women. [60] In March 2015 Ginsburg, along with Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, released a feminist essay on Passover, "The Heroic and Visionary Women of Passover", highlighting the roles of five key women in the saga: "These women had a vision leading out of the darkness shrouding their world. They were women of action, prepared to defy authority to make their vision a reality bathed in the light of the day. [61] In addition, she decorates her chambers with the phrase from Deuteronomy: "Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof" (Justice, justice shall you pursue) as a reminder of her heritage and professional responsibility. [62]

Ginsburg has a collection of lace jabots from around the world. [63] [64] She stated in 2014 that she has a particular jabot that she wears when issuing her dissents (black with gold embroidery and faceted stones), as well as another she wears when issuing majority opinions (crocheted yellow and cream with crystals) which was a gift from her law clerks. [63] [64] Her favorite jabot (woven with white beads) is from Cape Town, South Africa. [63]

Despite their fundamental differences, Ginsburg considered Scalia her closest colleague on the Court. The two justices had often dined and attended the opera together. [65]


Ginsburg was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1999 and underwent surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation therapy. During the process, she did not miss a day on the bench. [66] On February 5, 2009, she again underwent surgery related to pancreatic cancer. [67] Ginsburg's tumor was discovered at an early stage. [67] She was released from a New York City hospital, eight days after the surgery and heard oral arguments again four days later.

On September 24, 2009, Ginsburg was hospitalized in Washington DC for lightheadedness following an outpatient treatment for iron deficiency and was released the following day. [68]

On November 26, 2014, she had a stent placed in her right coronary artery after experiencing discomfort while exercising in the Supreme Court gym with her personal trainer. [69] [70]

Future plans

With the retirement of John Paul Stevens in 2010, Ginsburg became, at age 77, the oldest justice on the Court. [71] Despite rumors she would retire as a result of old age, poor health, and the death of her husband, [72] [73] she denied she was planning to step down. In an August 2010 interview, Ginsburg stated that the Court's work was helping her cope with the death of her husband and suggested she would serve at least until a painting that used to hang in her office was due to be returned to her in 2012. [71] She also expressed a wish to emulate Justice Louis Brandeis' service of nearly 23 years, which would get her to April 2016. [71] [74] She has also stated that she has a new "model" to emulate, Justice Stevens, who retired after nearly 35 years on the bench at age 90. [74]

In the years 2013 and 2014 of President Obama's presidency, some democrats and liberals called for Ginsburg to retire. [75] [76] [77] They argued that Ginsburg's voluntary retirement would ensure that Obama would be able to appoint a like-minded successor, particularly while the Democratic Party held control of the senate. [78] They pointed to Ginsburg's age and past health issues as factors making her longevity uncertain. [76] Ginsburg rejected these pleas. Ginsburg affirmed her wish to remain a justice as long as she was mentally sharp enough to perform her duties. [44] Moreover, Ginsburg said that the political climate would prevent Obama from appointing a jurist like herself. [79]


In 2009 Forbes named Ginsburg among the 100 Most Powerful Women. [80] Glamour Magazine named her one of their 'Women of the Year 2012.' [81] In 2015, she was named by Time as one of the Time 100, as an Icon. [82]

In 2009, Ginsburg was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Willamette University. [83] In 2010 she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Princeton University. [84] In 2011 she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Harvard University. [85]

In 2013, a painting featuring Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Sandra Day O'Connor, and Elena Kagan was unveiled at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. According to the Smithsonian at the time, the painting was on loan to the museum for three years. [86]

Researchers at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History gave a species of praying mantis the name Ilomantis ginsburgae after Ginsburg. The name was given because the neck plate of the Ilomantis ginsburgae bears a resemblance to a jabot, which Ginsburg is known for wearing. Moreover, the new species was identified based upon the female insect's genitalia instead of based upon the male of the species. The researchers noted that the name was a nod to Ginsburg's fight for gender equality. [87] [89]

The Cartoon Network television show Clarence featured a toy called Wrath Hover Ginsbot in the season 1 episode "Jeff's New Toy", which first aired on May 12, 2014. [90]

In 2015 Ginsburg was portrayed by Kate McKinnon on Saturday Night Live . [9]

Ginsburg has been referred to as a "pop culture icon". [92] [93] Ginsburg's profile began to rise after Justice O'Connor's retirement in 2005 left Ginsburg as the only serving female justice. Ginsburg's increasingly fiery dissents, particularly in Shelby County v. Holder , led to the creation of the Notorious R.B.G Tumblr and meme comparing the justice to rapper The Notorious B.I.G.. [94]

In February 2016 The Ruth Bader Ginsburg Coloring Book , by artist Tom F. O'Leary, was published. [9] [9]