Ruth Bader Ginsburg
(1933 - )
When Ruth Bader Ginsburg was sworn in as the 107th
justice to the United States Supreme Court in August, 1993, she
became the second woman to sit in this court (Sandra Day O'Connor was
the first woman), the first Jewish justice since 1969, and the first Jewish woman justice.
She was born on March 15, 1933, the daughter of
Celia and Nathan Bader, in Brooklyn, New York. Nathan Bader was a
furrier and came to the United States from Russia when he was 13. Her mother, Celia, was born in the United States and had a strong passion for reading, language and
the love of books. Ruth Bader was one of two daughters; her older
sister, Marilyn, died of meningitis and she was reared as an only
She was an excellent student in school, graduating
at the top of her class in grammar school and an academic leader in
high school. She was confirmed with honors from the East Midwood
Jewish Center. Ginsburg was very active in high school where she
played the cello in the orchestra, was a member of Arista, was a
cheerleader and a baton twirler and the editor of her high school
newspaper. Her mother died the day before she was to graduate from
James Madison High School.
Following high school, she recieved a New York State scholarship and studied at Cornell University where she worked as a research assistant for Professor Robert E. Cushman, which was where she first became interested in law. She also credits Professor Vladimir Nabokov for continuing her interest in words and writing; skills that would later be useful as a lawyer. After earning her B.A. degree in government from Cornell, in
1954, she married Martin D. Ginsburg, who had graduated Cornell the
year before. He was called for military service the same year and
they lived at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for two years. It was during this
period that Ruth Ginsburg experienced sex discrimination.
She applied for a job with the local social
security office while she was pregnant. She was appointed to a
position and when she told them that she was pregnant, they demoted
her three levels in pay. Another woman, who was appointed and never
told them of her pregnancy, received no demotion in the pay scale.
After her husband completed his military service,
they moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they both enrolled in
the Harvard Law School. She transferred to Columbia Law School after
her husband graduated Harvard Law School and obtained a job in
Following her graduation, she experienced gender discrimination but, in part due to the recommendations by male lawyers, she was hired as a clerk for Federal
District Judge Edward L. Palmieri. She spent two years on a Columbia Law
School project and became the second woman to join the faculty of
Rutgers Law School. During her career as a laywer, she tried many cases for the American
Civil Liberties Union before the United States Supreme Court and had said that she has a strong awareness of discrimination, saying:
"Senator Kennedy, I am alert to discrimination. I grew up during World War II in a Jewish family. I have memories as a child, even before the war, of being in a car with my parents and passing a place in [Pennsylvania], a resort with a sign out in front that read: “No dogs or Jews allowed.” Signs of that kind existed in this country during my childhood. One couldn’t help but be sensitive to discrimination living as a Jew in America at the time of World War II."
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was nominated by President
Jimmy Carter to the United States Court of Appeal for the District of
Columbia. She was sworn in on June 30, 1980, and served for thirteen
President Bill Clinton was confronted with a
vacancy on the Supreme Court after Judge Byron R. White resigned.
After three months of searching for a candidate, he nominated Ruth
Bader Ginsburg. During her Senate confirmation hearings, she did not
answer any questions concerning issues that were coming up before the
court. Her nomination was approved by the Senate by a vote of
ninety-six to three and she was sworn in on August 10, 1993.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg had to overcome many obstacles
as a woman and as a Jew to achieve her success. She has paved the way
for other Jewish women to move up the ladder of success.
Sources: This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of
American heroism included in Jewish
Heroes & Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of American
Jewish Heroism, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy"
Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of
Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood,
Jewish Women's Archive.