By Suzannah Young
The loss of Ruth Bader Ginsberg on Sept. 18 was not only the loss of a supreme court judge - it was the loss of a cultural legacy.
“It's stunning how she became a cultural icon,” said Sean Foreman, Barry’s chair of the political science department. “The fact that people wear t-shirts or jewelry just to look like her. She truly was a trailblazer in the legal field.”
While Ginsberg has been undeniably popular in recent years, the second female supreme court justice made decisions that would influence American life throughout the entirety of her career.
Ginsberg began her legal career at Harvard, where she was one of only a handful of women in her class.
“She went to school at a time when women really weren't going to law schools - when they were even challenged for taking the place that should have gone to a man,” said Dr. Leah Blumenfeld, political science professor. “It was definitely pioneering in that she was able to pursue her career and still have her family.”
Ginsberg met her would be husband, Martin Ginsberg, at Harvard and when he transferred to Columbia Law school, she went along with him.
Blumenfield explains that Ginsberg had to fight for her transfer, and how this kick-started her career as an advocate for not only women’s rights, but also familial and equal rights.
“Her success opened doors and showed that it was possible for women, especially, but also for other couples to not have to make those hard choices [between having a career or having a family] but to find a balance,” Blumenfeld said.
Ginsberg graduated from Columbia at the top of her class in 1959, and continued with her focus on sex discrimination, as she struggled with the issue in her own life and saw it as a larger problem in American society.
“[After graduating] she reached out to every major law firm in New York City, and no one would hire her because she was a woman,” Foreman said. “That’s what makes her unique. She was one of the first woman to graduate from a major law school and try to break into the big firms.
Ginsburg began her legal career teaching at Rutgers Law School and then moved onto Columbia University. Following her time as a professor, she became director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, and then was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
“Her work with the American Civil Liberties Union is where she really built her reputation as being a champion for those whose civil liberties had been repressed or had not been treated equally,” Blumenfeld said. “She mostly argued sex-based cases, but she was not completely limited to that.”
Her big break came in 1993, however, when she became the first woman ever nominated to the supreme court by a democrat - Bill Clinton - because of what Foreman refers to as “her profound legal career.”