Ruth Ginsburg was born in 1933 in Brooklyn; she was so energetic as a baby her older sister nicknamed her "Kiki," a nickname which stuck. Ginsburg was raised in a middle class Jewish family which heartily believed in the Jewish imperative of "tikkun olam," a doctrine requiring the pursuit of justice and compassion in the helping of others.
"Kiki" Bader spent her summers at Camp Che Na Wah in Upstate New York–a camp owned by her uncle. She was an avid camper from the age of 4 until 18; she developed a love of horses and the water, but water skiing became her favorite sport.
"Kiki" Ginsburg was of course a straight-A student; "If there were B's, the whole Bader house went into mourning." Ginsburg attended James Madison HighSchool in Brooklyn, where an unusually large number of instructors had Ph.D.degrees. Ginsburg was in the Honor Society, played the cello in the school band and, incredibly, was a baton twirler and a member of the student athletics booster society. During this time Kiki’s mother Celia was fighting a losing battle with ovarian cancer; Ginsburg’s beloved mother died just two days before her high school graduation.
Ginsburg faced considerable anti-Semitism at Cornell, the ivy league university she had chosen over nearby Barnard, and was deeply hurt at not being invited to rush a sorority.
Ruth B. Ginsburg. Original painting 2019. Collection of the artist.
While at Cornell, Ginsburg’s love of reading and writing led her to Vladimir Nabokov’s European literature class; according to Ginsburg, Nabokov inspired her to understand the importance of word choice and placement.
A younger generation will be astonished by Ginsburg’s law school experience—the infamous dinner party where Dean Ervin Griswold asked the few women law students in attendance “Why are you at Harvard Law School taking a place that could have gone to a man?” Ginsburg ultimately transferred to Cornell to be with husband Marty after he took a job in a corporate law firm in New York.
Ginsburg’s litigation for gender equality as an ACLU Women’s Rights Project attorney is fascinating, meeting clients and becoming immersed in the legal issues surrounding their plights: unequal application of tax and inheritance laws, unequal pay for women and lack of women on juries in criminal cases.
Ginsburg’s remarkable career included a two-year stint in Sweden, working on a comparative law project producing many papers and articles. Not wanting to return to the corporate world after Sweden, Ginsburg became a faculty member at Rutgers University School of Law, where she was stunned to find overt gender-based pay disparity.
In June, 1980, President Carter appointed Ginsburg to the District Court ofAppeal for the D.C. Circuit—a post often considered as a training ground forSupreme Court Justices. In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Ginsburg to theUnited States Supreme Court—where she now remains as one of the few liberals concerned with civil rights issues including women’s rights, the right to vote, the rights of the criminally accused, and the right to marry the person of one’s choice.
Ginsburg’s Supreme Court career is remarkable for her handling of the cases before her, zealous research, her robust discussions with colleagues and clerks and her meticulous writing.
Ginsburg’s health issues, her strong determination to keep working even after her beloved husband’s death, her devotion to her large family of children, grandchildren and step-grandchildren and her passions for opera and the arts are renown.Ginsburg, who remains as one of the few liberals on the Court concerned with civil rights issues including women’s rights, the right to vote, the rights of the criminally accused and the right to marry the person of one’s choice, has become a popular cultural icon. She is the subject of several books, two movies and has earned the moniker “Notorious RBG.”She is without doubt one of the most brilliant and hardworking women of our time