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Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Second Woman on the Supreme Court

Profile of Ginsburg and Her Efforts to Fight Sex Discrimination


Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Second Woman on the Supreme Court
© Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The second woman to serve on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was nominated by President Bill Clinton during his first term in office. She was his first appointment to the Court and took her seat on August 10, 1993. She had just turned 60 on March 15 of that year.


Motherless Daughter, Sisterless Sibling

Born in Brooklyn, NY, and nicknamed 'Kiki' by her mother, Ginsburg's childhood was marred by early losses. Her older sister died before she started school and her mother Cecelia, diagnosed with cancer during Ginsburg's high school years, died the day before her graduation. Although her mother left her $8000 for college tuition, Ginsburg earned enough scholarship money to give her inheritance to her father.

Caregiver and Law Student

Ginsburg attended Cornell where a student a year ahead of her named Martin would eventually become her husband. She graduated from Cornell in 1954 and was accepted at Harvard Law School, but found it extremely hostile to its few female students. One Harvard professor went so far as to ask the female students what it felt like to occupy places that could have gone to deserving men.

While in law school, she also raised a preschool daughter and supported her husband throughout his treatment for testicular cancer, attending his classes, taking notes, and even typing papers he dictated to her. When Martin graduated and accepted a job at a New York law firm, she transferred to Columbia. Ginsburg made the law review at both schools she'd attended, and graduated at the top of her class from Columbia.


Rebuffed Yet Resilient

Although the dean of Harvard Law School recommended her for a clerkship with Justice Felix Frankfurter, he refused to interview her. She also found an equally unwelcoming attitude from the law firms she applied to. Ginsburg turned to academia and was a research associate at Columbia Law School until she joined the faculty at Rutgers University Law School (1963-1972). She later taught at Columbia Law School (1972-1980) where she was the first woman hired with tenure.


Champion of Women's Rights

Working with the American Civil Liberties Union, she helped launch the Women's Rights Project in 1971 and was the ACLU's General Counsel (1973-1980). During her time with the ACLU, she championed cases that helped establish constitutional protections against sex discrimination. Ginsburg eventually argued six cases before the Supreme Court.


Second Female Nominated

In 1980, Ginsburg was nominated by President Jimmy Carter as a judge of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She served as a federal appeals judge until the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Byron R. White, when President Bill Clinton appointed her to fill the vacancy in the court.


Quiet Strength and Tenacity

Although often described as "a quiet presence on the court," Ginsburg has become more outspoken since the retirement of Justice O'Connor and the Supreme Court's move towards the right. She was pointed in her remarks after the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was upheld, hinting that the composition of the court had changed since the last case was heard restricting abortion regulation.

Health issues have dogged her tenure as a Supreme Court Justice although she has never missed a day on the bench. In 1999 she was treated for colon cancer; a decade later, she underwent surgery for early-stage pancreatic cancer on February 5, 2009.

See also - Sonia Sotomayor: Supreme Court's First Hispanic and Third Female

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"Sandra Day O'Connor Biography"Oyez.com, retrieved 22 April 2009.
"Sandra Day O'Connor: The reluctant justice." MSNBC.com, 1 July 2005.
"The Justices of the Supreme Court" Supremecourtus.gov, retrieved 6 March 2009.
"Times Topics: Ruth Bader Ginsberg" NYTimes.com, 5 February 2009.

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