On Friday, Sept. 18, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died at 87 due to complications from metastatic cancer of the pancreas. Ginsburg was one of the most powerful legal forces for social justice in American history, as well as a cultural, Jewish and feminist icon.
Ginsburg graduated from Cornell University in 1954. In 1956, she went to Harvard University to pursue her law degree, which she completed at Columbia University in 1959.
At the start of her career in the 1960s, Ginsburg struggled to find a job in the legal profession because of limited opportunities for women. It was not until a favorite Columbia University professor convinced Judge Edmund L. Palmieri of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to hire Ginsburg as a clerk that she got her first opportunity to work in the legal field. She then went on to become a research associate at Columbia University. In 1963, Justice Ginsburg began as a professor at Rutgers Law School. At the time, she was only one of about 20 female law professors in the United States.
In 1970, Ginsburg co-founded the Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the first law review to focus specifically on women’s rights. Continuing her advocacy work in cases of sex discrimination, she co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1972.
In 1971, Ginsburg wrote the brief for Reed v. Reed, in which the Supreme Court reaffirmed the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, stating famously that the Idaho Probate Code could not discriminate “on the basis of sex.”
Ginsburg continued to fight for gender equality after being nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals by President Jimmy Carter. In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated Ginsburg to the U.S. Supreme Court, making her the second female justice in American history. During her time as a justice, Ginsburg advocated relentlessly for gender equality during cases such as United States v. Virginia and Ledbetter v. Goodyear, and for abortion rights through cases such as Stenberg v. Carhart and Roe v. Wade.
Justice Ginsburg’s dissents were a central aspect of her legacy. A primary example of this was Ginsburg’s 2013 condemnation of Shelby County v. Holder, a case which contradicted the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In her dissent, Ginsburg declared, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes … is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
Justice Ginsburg died after serving 27 years on the bench of the Supreme Court. She passed away on the eve of the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Richard Jacobs, the leader of the Jewish Reform Movement, told Reuters, “One of the themes of Rosh Hashanah suggests that very righteous people would die at the very end of the year, because they were needed until the very end.”