New York Daily News: MANHATTAN, NY – Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who ascended from a working class Brooklyn neighborhood to a pivotal liberal role on the nation’s highest court during a groundbreaking career in the law, has died, the Court announced Friday.
She was 87.
“Our nation has lost a jurist of historic stature,” said Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. “We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn, but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her — a tireless and resolute champion of justice.”
Ginsburg struggled with health problems after she hit age 85, including three ribs broken in a November 2018 fall and surgery one month later at the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan to remove two cancerous nodules from her left lung.
Ginsburg stood just 5-foot-1 and weighed about 100 pounds. Her slight physical presence belied her towering legal mind and formidable powers as she fought for the rights of women and minorities.
She followed Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court in June 1993 to become only its second female justice.
Ginsburg shattered the glass ceiling in the male-dominated legal profession as the first woman on the editorial staff at the Harvard Law Review, founder of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, and the first tenured female faculty member at Columbia Law School.
In 1993, President Clinton nominated her to the nation’s highest court, and the Senate approved her by a vote of 96-3. She served for the next 27 years — generally voting with her fellow liberal justices while maintaining friendly relationships with her conservative counterparts.
Past presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush issued statements praising the groundbreaking jurist and her storied career.
Ginsburg was honored in 1999 with the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award, honoring her effort on behalf of gender equality and civil rights.
And she emerged late in her career as a pop culture touchstone — a plastic action figure, complete with gavel; subject of the biopic “On The Basis of Sex”; and holder of the nickname “Notorious R.B.G.,” a nod to fellow Brooklynite and hip-hop icon Christopher Wallace, aka the Notorious BIG.
Fans carried tote bags with Ginsburg’s face on the side, and Kate McKinnon famously played her on “Saturday Night Live.” Her likeness appeared so frequently on the internet that Ginsburg was dubbed the “Meme Supreme.”
Joan Ruth Bader was born the younger of two daughters welcomed by Brooklyn merchant Nathan Bader and his wife Celia, a garment factory worker. The older girl, Marilyn, died of meningitis when her sister was only 14 months old.
The surviving sibling became known as Ruth to distinguish her from other students named Joan in their kindergarten class.
She was a brilliant student by any name, earning excellent grades while keeping busy with student activities at James Madison High School and earning a full Ivy League scholarship at Cornell University.
Her cancer-stricken mother passed away the day before Ginsburg’s graduation.
“My mother told me two things constantly,” she once recalled. “One was to be a lady and the other was to be independent.”
The Cornell freshman from Brooklyn met her future husband in her first semester: Fellow student Marty Ginsburg, who would become a nationally-known tax attorney.
The bright young co-ed also met a pair of university professors who shaped her future. Vladimir Nabakov, the Russian-born novelist and author of “Lolita,” influenced her approach to writing. And constitutional lawyer Robert Cushman inspired her to pursue a law degree.
Ginsburg would become the first woman on the editorial staff of the Harvard Law Review. She was one of just eight women in the class of more than 500 at Harvard, where she endured in a made-dominated and often hostile environment.
Later, she transferred to Columbia Law School, where she completed her degree.
Breaking into the legal profession proved difficult for a married woman with a child, just the first of many gender barriers that Ginsburg was forced to clear.
When hired as an assistant professor in 1963 at Rutgers School of Law, she received a lowball salary offer because of her husband’s high-paying position.
When she became pregnant two years later, Ginsburg wore oversized clothes to hide her condition over fears the college would not renew her contract.
By the early 1970s, Ginsburg was recognized as an important new voice on women’s issues like gender equality, gender discrimination and women’s liberation. In 1972, she became the founding counsel of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.
By the decade’s end, she argued a half-dozen cases before the Supreme Court. Ginsburg walked away the winner in five of her arguments.
President Carter appointed Ginsburg to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., where she honed a reputation for pragmatic liberalism. Her colleagues included conservative judges Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia, both later Supreme Court nominees. Scalia was named to the Supreme Court in 1986, while Bork was rejected in 1987.
Ginsburg’s shared love of opera with Scalia, the court’s first Italian-American justice, inspired the comic opera “Scalia/Ginsburg.” She joined him on the Supreme Court in 1993, filling the spot left vacant by retiring Justice Byron White.
While still a relatively new justice, Ginsburg wrote the court’s landmark 1996 decision overturning the Virginia Military Institute’s policy barring the admission of women.
Ginsburg became the senior justice of the court’s liberal bloc after the retirements of justices David Souter in 2009 and John Paul Stevens in 2010 — the same year that her husband of 56 years died of cancer.
The couple had two children, Jane and James Ginsburg.
Her dissenting opinions became must-reads, particularly her critique of the majority vote on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., in which Hobby Lobby refused on religious grounds to provide contraception for workers under the Affordable Care Act.
The majority, Ginsburg wrote, had “ventured into a minefield (by ruling) that commercial enterprises can opt out of any law they judge incompatible with their religious beliefs.”
As always, her opinion was signed simply “I dissent” rather than the usual “I respectfully dissent.”
Top Feature Photo: Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is pictured in her Supreme Court chambers in 2014 – Cliff Owen / AP