On October 4, 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined the U.S. Supreme Court when it opened for its October 1993 term. Ginsburg’s boundary-breaking career as a professor, lawyer and second female Supreme Court justice is an inspiration to all women. She has recently emerged as a pop culture icon, thanks to the ubiquitous Notorious R.B.G. memes that celebrate the diminutive, yet powerful, justice by comparing her to the late rapper, Notorious B.I.G.
Born on March 15, 1933, in a low-income, working class Brooklyn neighborhood, Ginsburg was inspired by her mother’s sacrifices and encouragement. She enthusiastically pursued academics in high school and earned an undergraduate degree from Cornell University in 1954. She married and started a family with her college sweetheart, and the newlyweds went to Harvard Law School together. As one of only nine women in her class of 500 students, she had to contend with hostile gender discrimination. She ignored all the insults – including the dean who told Ginsburg and her female counterparts that they were taking away spots at the school from men – and became the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.
After transferring to Columbia Law School, she was awarded a J.D. in 1959. However, Ginsburg faced a discriminatory workforce that was resistant to hiring female lawyers. Ginsburg’s Columbia professor eventually stepped in to help her attain a judicial clerkship at the U.S. District Court. After four years of work in the public sector, Ginsburg landed a professorship at Rutgers University in 1963, making her one of only 20 female law professors in the country at the time.
In 1972, Ginsburg returned to her alma mater and started teaching at Columbia Law School, becoming the school’s first female tenured professor. However, she traded in the robes of academia for a judge’s robe when Jimmy Carter appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1980.
After serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. for over a decade, President Bill Clinton nominated her to the U.S. Supreme Court in June 1993. She was confirmed by the Senate in a 96-3 vote on August 3, and was sworn in a week later. As a Justice, Ginsburg has ruled in favor of gender equality, civil liberties, workers rights, and the separation of church and state. Although she famously said, “My mother told me two things constantly. One was to be a lady, and the other was to be independent,” Ginsburg is a consistent progressive vote on the Supreme Court. Recently, her vote helped uphold the Affordable Care Act and she was instrumental in the historic decision in 2015 that made same sex marriage legal in all 50 states.
Thanks to her dedication to justice and rights for all Americans, it is no wonder that the octogenarian justice is popular even among young people who proudly brandish their love for RBG on everything from t-shirts to mugs.