Ginsburg, Ruth Joan Bader

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GINSBURG, RUTH JOAN BADER (1933– ), U.S. lawyer and Supreme Court justice. Born in Brooklyn, the daughter of Nathan Bader and Celia Amster Bader, Ginsburg graduated from Cornell University in 1954. Following her graduation she married classmate Martin Ginsburg, who was already a law student at Harvard. In 1956, Ruth Bader Ginsburg also entered Harvard Law School, one of nine women in her class. During the next two years, she coped with an infant daughter and her husband's diagnosis and recovery from a severe form of cancer while excelling academically in an environment which was less than welcoming to female students. Following her husband's graduation and employment in New York City, Ginsburg completed her studies at Columbia Law School. She was elected to the law reviews of both institutions, and was recommended as a law clerk by Albert Sachs, dean of Harvard Law School, to Supreme Court Justice Felix *Frankfurter in 1960. Frankfurter refused to employ Ginsburg because she was a woman, a pattern repeated by New York City law firms. She was ultimately hired as a law clerk by a district court judge in New York.

In 1963, following her participation in a comparative law project in Sweden sponsored by Columbia University, she became the second woman to join the law faculty of Rutgers University. At Rutgers, Ginsburg became increasingly committed to addressing social conditions that denied women choices and opportunities open to men. Appointed as the director of the Women's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1972, Ginsburg looked for sex discrimination cases that raised issues amenable to change through legislation. She often employed the strategy of using male plaintiffs to show that laws that discriminated between men and women – even when supposedly designed to benefit women – were based on negative and unfair stereotypes that perpetuated the prevailing notion that women were generally dependent on men. Seeking to persuade a majority of the Supreme Court that sex-based legal distinctions demanded heightened judicial scrutiny, Ginsburg won five out of the six major women's rights cases she argued. The Supreme Court's ruling in Craig vs. Boren in particular – a 1976 case for which Ginsburg filed the brief – made it far more difficult to enact laws based on sexual stereotypes.

In 1980, eight years after being appointed the first tenured woman law professor at Columbia University, Ginsburg was elected to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. There she earned respect for clear thinking, careful reasoning, and assiduous preparation of her cases. In June 1993, when President Clinton proposed her to replace Justice Byron R. White, she became the first Supreme Court justice to be nominated by a Democratic president in 26 years; she was confirmed by the Senate in August 1993. On the Court, Ginsburg was a strong supporter of women's rights and civil liberties in general.

Her husband, martin d. ginsburg, an expert in tax law, was the lawyer to Ross Perot, billionaire oil magnate and 1992 presidential candidate, for many years. He was an economic adviser to Perot during his campaign. Ginsburg taught at Georgetown University Law School, to which Perot donated $1 million in his honor in 1986.


E. Ayer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Fire and Steel on the Supreme Court (1994); A. Leigh Campbell, Raising the Bar: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the aclu Women's Rights Project (2004); M. Halberstam, "Ginsburg, Ruth Bader," in: P.E. Hyman and D.D. Moore (eds.), Jewish Women in America, vol. 1 (1997), 515–20.

[Judith R. Baskin (2nd ed.)]