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Ruth Bader Ginsburg: From Unemployable Woman Lawyer to Notorious Legal Pioneer

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Creator: Charles Dharapak, Credit: AP.

On Friday, September 18, 2020, the American legal community lost a trailblazing, pioneering, brilliant legal mind and voice with the death of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

As a law firm, it is fitting that we acknowledge her loss and recognize her contributions. While people can disagree on whether they support her positions and legal interpretations, I have yet to hear anyone deny that RBG led a remarkable life, had a stellar law career, was a brilliant legal voice and mind, and inspired many people, especially women, to join the legal profession and/or the fight for equality in some fashion or another.

I’ve always thought it was such a testament to her brilliance that she almost single-handedly created a body of law on gender equality under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, and that it all started when she took on a case to defend a man who had been denied survivor benefits from the Social Security Administration because only women were allowed to collect them.

I cried more than once over the weekend thinking about her and our future without her. I am ever mindful of the debt of gratitude I owe pioneers like RBG. I can be a lawyer today because of her grit, determination, and sacrifice years ago. Women in all aspects of the legal profession – lawyers, paralegals, legal assistants, and support staff – owe a debt to Justice Ginsburg and others who forged the path before us.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg couldn’t get a job as a lawyer after graduating from Columbia in New York City, one of the best law schools in the country, because they simply did not hire women lawyers back then. Eventually, she landed a teaching job at Rutgers School of Law in New Jersey, and that’s when she began to change history – social, political, and legal.

In her later years, Justice Ginsburg became “The Notorious RBG” through no efforts of her own. I understand she was both flattered and amused by all the hoopla, though never quite sure how in the world she became this icon late in life. She didn’t just make being an accomplished female jurist cool – she made being an old accomplished female jurist cool. That is amazing. She became famous for the collars she wore with her robes, and I hope the Smithsonian does a whole exhibit on them.

Sadly, we will have little time to mourn her as the political battle over her replacement overtakes events, but mourn her we should. The world today is different than it would be had RBG not walked through it. And that is a life worth commemorating.

As we embroil ourselves in turmoil here, I like to think that she and Marty, the husband she lost in 2010, are having a joyous reunion. By all accounts, theirs was a love for the ages, so I hope they are together again.

If you do not know much about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but would like to, I encourage you to watch both the documentary, “RBG” and the movie “On the Basis of Sex” (all the way to the final scene, which will take your breath away).

RIP, RBG. You fought so hard to stay with us as long as you could. Thank you for a life well-lived; may you continue to be one of our better angels.

On a final note: Did you know that Houston’s late Congresswoman, Barbara Jordan, and RBG graduated law school in the same year (1959)? I had the great good fortune to take a class from Barbara Jordan when I was getting my master’s degree at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. She told us the story she told frequently about how the only job she could get after graduating from Boston College School of Law was as a secretary in a political campaign. Both she and Ginsburg faced gender discrimination, but Professor Jordan also faced added prejudice because she was a Black woman. Both BJ (as we called her) and RBG went on to make great contributions, and our world is better for their tenacity. They clearly did not take no for an answer.

Written by Donna J. Blevins


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