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Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993. Ginsburg was the first person nominated to the Court by President BILL CLINTON, filling the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice BYRON R. WHITE. As an attorney prior to her appointment, Ginsburg won distinction for her advocacy of WOMEN'S RIGHTS before the Supreme Court.

Ginsburg was born March 15, 1933, in Brooklyn, daughter of Nathan Bader, a furrier and haberdasher, and Celia (Amster) Bader. Ginsburg attended New York public schools and then Cornell University. She married Martin Ginsburg after graduating from Cornell in 1954, and gave birth to a daughter, Jane Ginsburg, before entering Harvard Law School in 1956. Ginsburg was an outstanding student and was elected president of her class at the prestigious Harvard Law School. After her second year, she transferred to Columbia Law School, following her husband, who had taken a position with a New York City law firm. Ginsburg was elected to the Columbia Law Review and graduated first in her class. She was admitted to the New York bar in 1959.

Despite her academic brilliance, New York law firms refused to hire Ginsburg because she was a woman. She finally got a position as a law clerk to a federal district court judge. In 1961, Ginsburg entered the academic field as a research associate at Columbia Law School. In 1963, she joined the faculty of Rutgers University School of Law, where she served as a professor until 1972.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In 1972, Ginsburg's career shifted to that of an advocate. As the director of the Women's Rights Project of the AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION, she developed and used a strategy of showing that laws that discriminated between men and women were often based on stereo-types that were unfair to both sexes. In the early to mid-1970s, Ginsburg argued six women's rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, winning five of them.

FRONTIERO V. RICHARDSON, 411 U.S. 677, 93 S. Ct. 1764, 36 L. Ed. 2d 583 (1973), illustrates the type of cases Ginsburg argued before the Court. In Frontiero, a female Air Force officer successfully challenged statutes (10 U.S.C.A. §§ 1072, 1076; 37 U.S.C.A. §§ 401, 403) that allowed a married serviceman to qualify for higher housing benefits even if his wife was not dependent on his income, while requiring a married servicewoman to prove her husband's dependence before receiving the same benefit. The Supreme Court voted 8–1 to overturn the law.

President JIMMY CARTER appointed Ginsburg to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1980. In this position Ginsburg proved to be a judicial moderate, despite her reputation as a women's rights advocate. She supported a woman's right to choose to have an ABORTION, but disagreed with the framework of ROE V. WADE, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S. Ct. 705, 35 L. Ed. 2d 147, the 1973 decision that gave women that right. She generally sided with the government in criminal cases, but supported CIVIL RIGHTS issues. She was a model of judicial restraint, preferring legislative solutions to social problems, instead of judge-made solutions.

President Clinton nominated Ginsburg to the Supreme Court in 1993, and she was easily confirmed. Her tenure on the High Court has been consistent with her service on the court of appeals. She has remained a judicial moderate with a strong emphasis on protecting civil rights. In UNITED STATES V. VIRGINIA, 518 U.S. 515, 116 S. Ct. 2264, 135 L. Ed. 2d 735 (1996), Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion, which ordered the all-male Virginia Military Institute (VMI) to admit women or give up state funding. This decision also affected the Citadel, South Carolina's state-run all-male military school, and was a decisive blow to state-sponsored SEX DISCRIMINATION. Ginsburg rejected a proposal by VMI that it establish a separate military program for women. Such a program would be unequal, Ginsburg concluded, because it would rely on stereotypes about women and would not provide an equal education. She stated,"Women seeking and fit for a VMI-quality education cannot be offered anything less under the state's obligation to afford them genuinely equal protection."

Ginsburg has written for the majority in nearly one hundred opinions. One of her most far-reaching opinions was the INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY case of New York Times v. Tasini, 533 U.S. 483, 121 L. Ed. 2d 2381, 150 L. Ed. 2d 500 (2001). The Tasini opinion upheld a 1999 federal appeals court decision, which found that the New York Times Company and its codefendants had violated the copyrights of Tasini and five other freelance writers by reproducing their work online on their own websites, and through subscription databases such as Lexis-Nexis. Ginsburg's opinion states that publishing the same article in print and on electronic formats are separate publishing events for purposes of COPYRIGHT law. Consequently, the authors should be compensated for each publishing event. The suit was brought forward by freelance writers who complained that their work was posted on the INTERNET without their permission and, in some cases, earned extra revenue for publishers who sold access to the archived material.

Ginsburg also has contributed nearly 40 dissenting opinions, including a strong dissent to the majority opinion in BUSH V. GORE, 531 U.S. 98, 121 S. Ct. 525, 148 L. Ed. 2d 388 (2000). The Bush opinion played a primary role in determining the outcome of the 2000 election in favor of GEORGE W. BUSH. Ginsburg's dissent in the Bush case rested on the notion that "federal courts [should] defer to state high courts' interpretations of their state's own law."

Justice Ginsburg holds honorary degrees from a number of institutions, including American University, Hebrew Union College, Amherst College, and Georgetown University. She has also been an active bar association member, serving on the Board of Editors of the AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION journal, and as secretary, board member, and executive committee member of the American Bar Foundation. In addition, Ginsburg is a well-respected author and editor, writing on such topics as conflict of laws, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, and CIVIL PROCEDURE.


In 1999, at the age of 66, Justice Ginsburg was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. She received radiation and chemotherapy treatments, and underwent surgery in September 1999. Upon recovery, she returned to her duties on the bench.

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