This article is part of our series showcasing Leaders with Grit and Grace
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who the world remembers as a U.S. Supreme Court justice and the second woman ever to be appointed to the position, was so much more. A judge, an academician, an author, an influencer, a mother – are just some of the many hats she wore. At just over 5 feet tall, Ms. Ginsburg was considered a giant in the legal world.
RBG earned her bachelor’s degree at Cornell University and started law school at Harvard, where she was one of the few women in her class. She transferred to Columbia Law School, where she graduated joint first in her class. She went on to become a staunch courtroom advocate for the fair treatment of women and worked with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)’s Women’s Rights Project.
She has often described situations when she is asked ‘When will there be enough (women on the Supreme Court)?’ and her answer is ‘When there are nine.‘ Such statements have shocked many of her co-workers and stakeholders, but she has stood her ground by replying, ‘there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”
Ginsberg served on the Supreme Court for more than 27 years, upholding women’s rights and social justice as the leader of the high court’s liberals amid an increasingly conservative majority, setting off a nomination fight for her replacement. She has been pivotal in landmark decisions on pressing issues such as gender discrimination, Abortion rights, Search and seizure, Native Americans etc. In her own words “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made”
RBG was also considered a fashion icon by many, with her signature style of lace collars (jabots), which deserve a special mention. “The standard robe is made for a man because it has a place for the shirt to show and the tie, so Sandra Day O’Connor and I thought it would be appropriate if we included as part of our robe something typical of a woman,” she had said in a 2009 interview.
Apart from her powerhouse career in the judicial system, she was also an author and a TV personality. She released My Own Words, a memoir filled with her writings that date as far back as her junior high school years, in 2016. The book became a New York Times Best Seller. In January 2018 Ginsburg appeared at the Sundance Film Festival to accompany the premiere of the documentary RBG. She also gave her seal of approval for Kate McKinnon’s sassy portrayal of her on Saturday Night Live, saying, “I would like to say ‘Ginsburned’ sometimes to my colleagues.”. She has also been an active supporter of the #MeToo movement, wherein she was vocal about an earlier experience when she had to put up with the advances of her Cornell University professor.
Ginsburg received attention in American popular culture for her passionate dissents in numerous cases, widely seen as reflecting paradigmatically liberal views of the law. She was playfully and notably dubbed “The Notorious R.B.G.” by a law student, a reference to the late popular rapper ‘The Notorious B.I.G’., which she later embraced.
Her Jewish community remembers her as, “someone who never seemed as a distant figure, but a local superhero, a mentor, a source of strength”. Within hours of the news of her death, hundreds of people had gathered outside the Supreme Court in Washington DC to pay their respects. It was recently announced that the Brooklyn Municipal Building will be named after her.
As young women leaders, we hope to be able to continue her legacy so that she continues to inspire the generations to come!
Sukhmani, an Executive Director at MW Mines. Former Management Consultant with EY & PwC. She volunteers with TalentNomics India as she is passionate about girls’ education and women’s rights.