Ruth Bader Ginsburg spent a lifetime flourishing in the face of adversity before being appointed a Supreme Court justice, where she successfully fought against gender discrimination and unified the liberal block of the court. She was born Joan Ruth Bader on March 15, 1933 in Brooklyn, New York. Her father was a furrier in the height of the Great Depression, and her mother worked in a garment factory. Ginsburg’s mother instilled a love of education in Ginsburg through her dedication to her brother; foregoing her own education to finance her brother’s college expenses. Her mother heavily influenced her early life and watched Ginsburg excel at James Madison High School, but was diagnosed with cancer and died the day before Ginsburg’s high school graduation. Ginsburg’s success in academia continued throughout her years at Cornell University, where she graduated at the top of her class in 1954. That same year, Ruth Bader became Ruth Bader Ginsburg after marrying her husband Martin. After graduation, she put her education on hold to start a family. She had her first child in 1955, shortly after her husband was drafted for two years of military service. Upon her husband’s return from his service, Ginsburg enrolled at Harvard Law.
Ginsburg’s personal struggles neither decreased in intensity nor deterred her in any way from reaching and exceeding her academic goals, even when her husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1956, during her first year of law school. Ginsburg took on the challenge of keeping her sick husband up-to-date with his studies while maintaining her own position at the top of the class. At Harvard, Ginsburg tackled the challenges of motherhood and of a male-dominated school where she was one of nine females in a 500-person class. She faced gender-based discrimination from even the highest authorities there, who chastised her for taking a man’s spot at Harvard Law. She served as the first female member of the Harvard Law Review. Her husband recovered from cancer, graduated from Harvard, and moved to New York City to accept a position at a law firm there. Ruth Bader Ginsburg had one more year of law school left, so she transferred to Columbia Law School and served on their law review as well. She graduated first in her class at Columbia Law in 1959.
Even her exceptional academic record was not enough to shield her from the gender-based discrimination women faced in the workplace in the 1960s. She had difficulties finding a job until a favorite Columbia professor explicitly refused to recommend any other graduates before U.S. District Judge Edmund L. Palmieri hired Ginsburg as a clerk. Ginsburg clerked under Judge Palmieri for two years. After this, she was offered some jobs at law firms, but always at a much lower salary than her male counterparts. She instead took some time to pursue her other legal passion, civil procedure, choosing to join the Columbia Project on International Civil Procedure. This project fully immersed her in Swedish culture, where she lived abroad to do research for her book on Swedish Civil Procedure practices. Upon her return to the States, she accepted a job as a professor at Rutgers University Law School in 1963, a position she held until accepting an offer to teach at Columbia in 1972. There, she became the first female professor at Columbia to earn tenure. Ginsburg also directed the influential Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union during the 1970s. In this position, she led the fight against gender discrimination and successfully argued six landmark cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Ginsburg took a broad look at gender discrimination, fighting not just for the women left behind, but for the men who were discriminated against as well. Ginsburg experienced her share of gender discrimination, even going so far as to hide her pregnancy from her Rutgers colleagues. Ginsburg accepted Jimmy Carter’s appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1980. She served on the court for thirteen years until 1993, when Bill Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg began her career as a justice where she left off as an advocate, fighting for women’s rights. In 1996, Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion in United States v. Virginia, holding that qualified women could not be denied admission to Virginia Military Institute. Her style in advocating from the bench matches her style from her time at the ACLU: slow but steady, and calculated. Instead of creating sweeping limitations on gender discrimination, she attacked specific areas of discrimination and violations of women’s rights one at a time, so as to send a message to the legislatures on what they can and cannot do. Her attitude is that major social change should not come from the courts, but from Congress and other legislatures. This method allows for social change to remain in Congress’ power while also receiving guidance from the court. Ginsburg does not shy away from giving pointed guidance when she feels the need. She dissented in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. where the plaintiff, a female worker being paid significantly less than males with her same qualifications, sued under Title VII but was denied relief under a statute of limitations issue. The facts of this case mixed her passion of federal procedure and gender discrimination. She broke with tradition and wrote a highly colloquial version of her dissent to read from the bench. She also called for Congress to undo this improper interpretation of the law in her dissent, and then worked with President Obama to pass the very first piece of legislation he signed, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, a copy of which hangs proudly in her office.
OYEZ: Cornell Law School, Legal Information Institute (independent project of the Cornell Law School), Chicago-Kent College of Law, Justia (Justia is an American website specializing in legal information retrieval. It was founded in 2003 by Tim Stanley, formerly of FindLaw, and is one of the largest online databases of legal cases. The company is headquartered in Mountain View, California.)
(c) The Women's Rights Project (WRP) gratefully acknowledges the work of intern Sandra Pullman in researching and drafting this Tribute.
In the words of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice and co-founder of the Women's Rights Project at the ACLU, "Women's rights are an essential part of the overall human rights agenda, trained on the equal dignity and ability to live in freedom all people should enjoy."
Ginsburg has been a pioneer for gender equality throughout her distinguished career. While singular in her achievements, she was far from alone in her pursuits and received much support from talented, dedicated women all along the way. Celia Bader provided a strong role model for her daughter at an early age. Ginsburg recalls, "My mother told me two things constantly. One was to be a lady, and the other was to be independent. The study of law was unusual for women of my generation. For most girls growing up in the '40s, the most important degree was not your B.A., but your M.R.S."
Ginsburg attended law school, not originally for women's rights work, but "for personal, selfish reasons. I thought I could do a lawyer's job better than any other. I have no talent in the arts, but I do write fairly well and analyze problems clearly." 
Although she arrived without a civil rights agenda, the treatment Ginsburg received as a woman in law school honed her feminist instincts. One of only nine women at Harvard Law School in 1956, Ginsburg and her female classmates were asked by the dean why they were occupying seats that would otherwise be filled by men.
Despite her discomfort, self-doubt, and misgivings, Ginsburg proved to be a stellar student, making law review at Harvard in 1957, and then again at Columbia Law School, where she finished her studies in order to keep the family together when her husband graduated from Harvard and accepted a job in New York. (Her daughter was born 14 months before Ginsberg entered law school.) This major accomplishment at two top schools was unprecedented by any student, male or female.
Upon graduating from Columbia in 1959, Ginsburg tied for first in her class. Still, when she was recommended for a clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter by Albert Sachs, a professor at Harvard Law School, Frankfurter responded that he wasn't ready to hire a woman and asked Sachs to recommend a man.
Ginsburg had worked for a top law firm in New York during the summer of her second year in law school. "I thought I had done a terrific job, and I expected them to offer me a job on graduation," she recalled.  Despite her performance, there was no job offer. Nor was there an offer from any of the twelve firms with which she interviewed; only two gave her a follow-up interview.
In the end, Ginsburg was hired to clerk for Judge Edmund L. Palmieri of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York from 1959 to 1961. She received offers from law firms after that job, but she chose to work on Columbia Law School's International Procedure Project instead, co-authoring a book on Sweden's legal system and translating Sweden's Judicial Code into English.
Continuing in academia, Ginsburg joined the faculty of Rutgers Law School in 1963, but her status as a woman still put her at a disadvantage. When she discovered that her salary was lower than that of her male colleagues, she joined an equal pay campaign with other women teaching at the university, which resulted in substantial increases for all the complainants.
Prompted by her own experiences, Ginsburg began to handle sex discrimination complaints referred to her by the New Jersey affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union. Ginsburg envisioned that men and women would "create new traditions by their actions, if artificial barriers are removed, and avenues of opportunity held open to them."  The ACLU Women's Rights Project was born in 1972 under Ginsburg's leadership, in order to remove these barriers and open these opportunities. That same year, Ginsburg became the first woman to be granted tenure at Columbia Law School.
1. ATHENA International, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, athttp://www.athenafoundation.org/award/bios/ruth.html. 2. ELINOR PORTER SWIGER, WOMEN LAWYERS AT WORK 51, 58 (1978). 3. KENNETH M. DAVIDSON, RUTH BADER GINSBURG, & HERMA H. KAY, SEX-BASED DISCRIMINATION: TEXT, CASE, AND MATERIALS xii-xiii (1974).