Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has carved out a permanent place in all of our hearts, for so many reasons, not least of which was her lifelong championing of women’s rights. She was a living, breathing testament to the power of grit, tenacity, and compassion. Here are just a few reasons she truly was the ultimate GOAT, the greatest of all time.
1. She was the first person, male or female, to serve as editor at both the Harvard and Columbia law reviews.
It was rare enough in the 1950s that a woman even be granted entry into either of these prestigious universities. Yale and Princeton still did not admit women at the time. So, that Ruth Bader Ginsburg served on each of these famous student-run journals of legal scholarship is a testament to her brilliance, determination, and general badassery.
2. When people told her she couldn’t do something because she was a woman, she went ahead and did it anyway.
Ginsburg didn’t take no for an answer. She not only fought for herself, but she cleared a path for other women too. While she was at Harvard, the dean asked Ginsburg to justify her presence at the school since she’d taken a man’s place. Later, when one of her professors recommended her to serve as a clerk for supreme court justice Felix Frankfurter, Frankfurter said he wasn’t “ready” to hire a woman.
At the time, each of these instances were perfectly legal. Not only did Ginsburg scrape and claw to push past every “no” for herself, but it is largely due to her work that the sexism she personally experienced is no longer legal. Regardless of anyone’s politics, women in the United States owe her a massive debt of gratitude.
3. RBG had a voracious, competitive appetite for academic excellence, and wasn’t afraid to own it.
She graduated first in her class from Columbia Law School. According to the ACLU, Ginsburg said she didn’t originally attend law school expecting to champion women’s rights. She said she went to law school for “personal, selfish reasons. I thought I could do a lawyer’s job better than any other.” Well, she wasn’t wrong.
4. Again and again, RBG came up against sexism in her career, and she stood up to it every time.
While at Cornell, one of her professors offered her the answers for an exam in exchange for sex. At the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where the documentary RBG premiered, she relayed her reaction: “I went to his office and I said, ‘How dare you! How dare you do this!’ and that was the end of that.”
Ginsburg often had to fight for entry and then had to fight once again for equal pay. At Rutgers Law School, where she was only the second female law professor, Ginsburg and other female employees filed a complaint under the brand new Equal Pay Act of 1963, and they won.
5. RBG co-founded the very first women’s rights law journal, the Women’s Rights Law Reporter.
At Rutgers, Ginsburg had begun teaching seminars on women and the law. Her students’ interest in the subject furthered her own, and with Elizabeth Langer, she founded and became a faculty advisor to the first journal on women’s rights, which continues to be published today at Rutgers Law School.
6. RBG co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU.
Ginsburg was a founding director of the Women’s Rights Project, created in 1972, an ongoing project that even to this day fights discrimination against women.
7. RBG became the first tenured female law professor at Columbia.
In 1972, the same year she was founding the Women’s Rights Project, Ginsburg became the first female tenured Columbia Law School professor.
8. RBG fought for all women, regardless of socioeconomic class.
While teaching at Columbia, Ginsburg learned that the school was laying off female maids but not male janitors. She complained, an injunction was filed against Columbia and supported by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and eventually, as Ginsburg told NPR in 2018, “Columbia decided they didn’t really have to lay off anyone.”
9. RBG won five out of six cases that she argued before the Supreme Court, setting precedent after precedent for defending women’s rights.
Katherine Franke, Columbia Law School professor and Director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, said of Ginsburg, “RBG’s signature approach to combating sexism was bringing lawsuits on behalf of men who were being treated unequally because of their sex. Her thinking was that male judges would appreciate the injustice in a case where men were the victims, and in winning those cases she was building the scaffolding for addressing the sexism women suffered.”
In Duren v. Missouri, Ginsburg argued that a male convict’s right to “a jury chosen from a fair cross-section of his community was violated because it didn’t include women, whose jury duty was voluntary.” By protecting men from sexism, Ginsburg was quietly laying the groundwork for precedence that would protect women from sexism too. She truly was a legal genius.
10. RBG was the first female Jewish Supreme Court justice.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated Ginsburg to the Supreme Court. Ginsburg was only the second female justice ever to serve (Sandra Day O’Connor was the first), the first Jewish person to serve since 1969, and the first female Jewish Supreme Court justice in history.
11. RBG delivered a brilliant burn like nobody’s business.
“When I’m sometimes asked ‘When will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court]?’ and I say ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” — The Notorious RBG
12. RBG’s dissents were absolutely epic.
In Supreme Court-speak, a dissent is an opinion that goes against the majority. Ginsburg became famous for her powerful dissents, which she would read aloud and which were written in normal everyday language rather than unintelligible legalese. “I like to think most of my dissents will be the law someday,” Ginsburg said in 2015 at a conversation at the University of Michigan.
13. RBG was the first justice to officiate a same-sex marriage.
In 2013, Ginsburg officiated the wedding of Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser to economist John Roberts in Washington, DC, making her the first Supreme Court member to officiate a same-sex marriage.
14. RBG did pushups and planks clear into her 80s.
20 pushups every day, and 30-second planks, to be precise. It was part of her daily routine, she said at a 2016 event at the Temple Emanu-El Skirball Center in New York City
15. RBG made being a Supreme Court Justice cool.
She is popularly known as “Notorious RBG.” Need we say more?
16. Even on her deathbed, Ruth Bader Ginsburg worried about the future of the United States of America.
While on her deathbed, she reportedly told her granddaughter that her “most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” She worried about our democracy as she was actively dying. The GOP can go ahead and stop claiming a monopoly on patriotism.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, of diminutive physical stature but with the heart of a giant, moved mountains of granite and sparked hope where hope seemed pointless. It is our responsibility, our duty, to continue her work in her stead. We cannot — and will not — let her down.