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Portrait of Ruth Bader (Ginsburg)
Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Reproduction courtesy of the Supreme Court Historical Society.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg

b. March 15, 1933, Brooklyn, NY

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court

Ruth Bader Ginsburg grew up in a working-class neighborhood of Brooklyn that was home to many Jewish, Italian, and Irish immigrants. She attended the local high school and then went to Cornell on scholarship, where she graduated first in her class in 1954. Shortly after graduation she married Martin Ginsburg, whom she had met at Cornell, and she accompanied him to Fort Sill, in Oklahoma, where he was stationed with the army. On his discharge the couple moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they both attended Harvard Law School. Despite the burden of caring for her young daughter and nursing her husband, who developed cancer, she made the law review and was elected president of her class. When her husband accepted a job in New York, she transferred to Columbia Law School, where she made the law review and became the first person ever to be on the law reviews of both Harvard and Columbia. She graduated first in her class in 1959.

Despite her academic accomplishments, she was not offered a position by any New York law firm. She was also rejected for a Supreme Court clerkship by Justice Felix Frankfurter. In 1959, She clerked for a federal district judge , was a research associate at Columbia for two years starting in 1961, taught at Rutgers University Law School from1963 to1972, and then joined the faculty of Columbia Law School where she worked until 1980 and was the first woman ever hired with tenure. From 1972 to 1980 she was director of the Women's Rights Project for the ACLU and won five of the six major cases on gender equality she argued before the Supreme Court including Reed v. Reed (1973) (Court held that statutory gender discrimination violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment). While her legal positions have since been criticized for making the legal status of men and women too strictly equal despite real biological and social differences, her work helped create unprecedented employment opportunities for women.

As she later recalled: "Race discrimination was immediately perceived as evil, odious, and intolerable. But the response I got when I talked about sex-based discrimination was 'What are you talking about?' ... I was talking to an audience that thought ... I was somehow critical about the way they treated their wives ... [and] their daughters."

In 1980 President Jimmy Carter nominated her to the U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, where she served until 1993. That year, Justice Byron White resigned from the Supreme Court and created the first vacancy in 25 years to occur while a Democrat was in office. President William Clinton appointed Ginsburg to the seat, calling her "the Thurgood Marshall of gender equality law."

Considered a liberal on the Rehnquist and Roberts Courts, Ginsburg is nevertheless an advocate of caution and judicial restraint and is a judicial moderate when compared with earlier liberal judges. For example, while consistently supporting abortion rights, she has remarked that the Roe v. Wade (1973) decision may have been improperly decided because it suppressed a political movement that would have more definitively rejected abortion restrictions. She argued that justices may consult a wide variety of sources in making their decisions and may even consider legal opinions by foreign jurists if they are relevant. This opinion sparked a debate and heated criticism, especially from those conservatives who espouse a strict textual reading of the Constitution.

John Fox, a writer and documentary film producer, was series producer of the Emmy-winning PBS series HERITAGE: CIVILIZATION AND THE JEWS. Editor-in-chief of the award-winning HERITAGE DVD-ROM, he supervised the creation of its 540-map interactive atlas of world history. He is currently writing a book about the growth of communal intelligence over the centuries.

Anthony Kennedy David Souter Clarence Thomas Ruth Bader Ginsburg view all biographies Antonin Scalia John Paul Stevens Stephen Breyer John Roberts Samuel Alito