Following a private ceremony with family, close friends and the justices inside the Supreme Court's Great Hall today, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's casket has been moved under the portico on the front steps for members of the public to pay their respects.
Her body will be moved to the US Capitol building on Friday, and she will become the first woman in history to lie in state when her casket is placed in National Statuary Hall. Ginsburg died September 18th, 2020 at the age of 87 due to complications of pancreatic cancer. She served on the court for more than 27 years.
A private interment will be held next week at Arlington National Cemetery.
Just days before her death, as her strength waned, Ginsburg dictated this statement to her granddaughter Clara Spera: "My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed."
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a historic figure. She changed the way the world is for American women. For more than a decade, until her first judicial appointment in 1980, she led the fight in the courts for gender equality. When she began her legal crusade, women were treated, by law, differently from men. Hundreds of state and federal laws restricted what women could do, barring them from jobs, rights and even from jury service. By the time she donned judicial robes, however, Ginsburg had worked a revolution.
That was never more evident than in 1996 when, as a relatively new Supreme Court justice, Ginsburg wrote the court's 7-1 opinion declaring that the Virginia Military Institute could no longer remain an all-male institution. True, Ginsburg said, most women — indeed most men — would not want to meet the rigorous demands of VMI. But the state, she said, could not exclude women who could meet those demands.
"Reliance on overbroad generalizations...estimates about the way most men or most women are, will not suffice to deny opportunity to women whose talent and capacity place them outside the average description," Ginsburg wrote.
She was an unlikely pioneer, a diminutive and shy woman, whose soft voice and large glasses hid an intellect and attitude that, as one colleague put it, was "tough as nails."
Born in Brooklyn, Ruth Bader went to public schools, where she excelled as a student and as a baton twirler. By all accounts, it was her mother who was the driving force in her young life, but Celia Bader died of cancer the day before the future justice would graduate from high school.
Then 17, Ruth Bader went on to Cornell University on a full scholarship, where she met Martin "Marty"Ginsburg. "What made Marty so overwhelmingly attractive to me was that he cared that I had a brain," she said.
After her graduation, they were married and went off to Fort Sill, Okla., for his military service. There Mrs. Ginsburg, despite scoring high on the civil service exam, could only get a job as a typist, and when she became pregnant, she lost even that job.
Two years later, the couple returned to the East Coast to attend Harvard Law School. She was one of only nine women in a class of more than 500 and found the dean asking her why she was taking up a place that "should go to a man."
At Harvard, she was the academic star. The couple were busy juggling schedules and their toddler when Marty Ginsburg was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Surgeries and aggressive radiation followed. "So that left Ruth with a 3-year-old child, a fairly sick husband, the law review, classes to attend and feeding me," Marty Ginsburg said in a 1993 interview with NPR.
The experience also taught the future justice that sleep was a luxury. During the year of her husband's illness, he was only able to eat late at night; after that he would dictate his senior class paper to her. At about 2 a.m., he would go back to sleep, Ruth Bader Ginsburg recalled in an NPR interview. "Then I'd take out the books and start reading what I needed to be prepared for classes the next day."
Marty Ginsburg survived, graduated and got a job in New York; his wife, a year behind him in school, transferred to Columbia, where she graduated at the top of her law school class. Despite her academic achievements, the doors to law firms were closed to women, and though recommended for a Supreme Court clerkship, she wasn't even interviewed.
It was bad enough that she was a woman, she recalled later, but she was also a mother, and male judges worried she would be diverted by her "familial obligations."
A mentor, law professor Gerald Gunther, finally got her a clerkship in New York by promising Judge Edmund Palmieri that if she couldn't do the work, he would provide someone who could. That was "the carrot," Ginsburg would say later. "The stick" was that Gunther, who regularly fed his best students to Palmieri, told the judge that if he didn't take Ginsburg, Gunther would never send him a clerk again. The Ginsburg clerkship apparently was a success; Palmieri kept her not for the usual one year, but two, from 1959-61.
Ginsburg's next path is rarely talked about, mainly because it doesn't fit the narrative. She learned Swedish so she could work with Anders Bruzelius, a Swedish civil procedure scholar. Through the Columbia University School of Law Project on International Procedure, Ginsburg and Bruzelius co-authored a book.
In 1963, Ginsburg finally landed a teaching job at Rutgers Law School, where she at one point hid her second pregnancy by wearing her mother-in-law's clothes. The ruse worked; her contract was renewed before her baby was born.
While at Rutgers, she began her work fighting gender discrimination.
Later, she would become the first female tenured professor at Columbia Law School, and she would found the Women's Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. As the chief architect of the battle for women's legal rights, Ginsburg devised a strategy that was characteristically aimed at one goal - winning.
Knowing that she had to persuade male, establishment-oriented judges, she often picked male plaintiffs, and she liked Social Security cases because they illustrated how discrimination against women can harm men. For example, in Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, she represented a man whose wife, the principal breadwinner, died in childbirth. The husband sought survivor's benefits to care for his child, but under the then-existing Social Security law, only widows, not widowers, were entitled to such benefits.
"This absolute exclusion, based on gender per se, operates to the disadvantage of female workers, their surviving spouses, and their children," Ginsburg told the justices at oral argument. The Supreme Court would ultimately agree, as it did in five of the six cases she argued.
Over the years, Ginsburg would file dozens of briefs seeking to persuade the courts that the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection applies not just to racial and ethnic minorities but to women as well. "The words of the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause — 'nor shall any state deny to any person the equal protection of the laws.' Well that word, 'any person,' covers women as well as men. And the Supreme Court woke up to that reality in 1971," Ginsburg said.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter named Ginsburg to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Over the next 13 years, she would amass a record as something of a centrist liberal, and in 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court, the second woman appointed to the position.
She was not first on his list. For months, Clinton flirted with other potential nominees, and some women's rights activists withheld their active support because they were worried about Ginsburg's views on abortion. She had been publicly critical of the legal reasoning in Roe v. Wade. But in the background, Marty Ginsburg was lobbying hard for his wife. And finally Ruth Ginsburg was invited for a meeting with the president. As one White House official put it afterward, Clinton "fell for her — hook, line and sinker." So did the Senate. She was confirmed by a 96-3 vote.
Once on the court, Ginsburg was an example of a woman who defied stereotypes. Though she looked tiny and frail, she rode horses well into her 70s and even went parasailing. At home, it was her husband who was the chef, indeed a master chef, while the justice cheerfully acknowledged she was an awful cook.
Over the years, as Ginsburg's place on the court grew in seniority, so did her role. In 2006, as the court veered right after the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Ginsburg dissented more often and more assertively, her most passionate dissents coming in women's rights cases.
Ginsburg always kept a backbreaking schedule of public appearances both at home and abroad,even after five bouts with cancer: colon cancer in 1999, pancreatic cancer 10 years later, lung cancer in 2018, and then pancreatic cancer again in 2019 and liver lesions in 2020. During that time, she endured chemotherapy, radiation and, in the last years of her life, terrible pain from shingles that never went away completely. All who knew her admired her grit. In 2009, three weeks after major cancer surgery, she surprised everyone when she showed up for the State of the Union address. Shortly after that, she was back on the bench.
In the years after Marty's death, she would persevere without him, maintaining a jam-packed schedule when she was not on the bench or working on opinions.
Some liberals criticized her for not retiring while Obama was president, but she was at the top of her game, enjoyed her work enormously and feared that Republicans might not confirm a successor. She was an avid consumer of opera, literature and modern art. But in the end, it was her work, she said, that sustained her.
"I do think that I was born under a very bright star," she said in an interview. "Because if you think about my life, I get out of law school. I have top grades. No law firm in the city of New York will hire me. I end up teaching; it gave me time to devote to the movement for evening out the rights of women and men. And it was that legal crusade for women's rights that ultimately led to her appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be missed. A feminist powerhouse. A political icon.
Rest In Peace.
Courtesy of CNN and NPR