» Ruth Bader Ginsburg Bust

“To make life a little better for people less fortunate than you, that's what I think a meaningful life is.”

- Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Critical Essay by
Dr. Norma Bouchard
Executive Vice President, Provost and Chief Academic Officer
Chapman University
View Bio

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn on March 15, 1933, of Jewish parents. Her father was an emigrant of Odesa, Ukraine, and her mother was the daughter of Polish Jews who had emigrated from Kraków, Poland. 

Ruth Bader developed a passion for law and justice from an early age. An academically gifted student, she earned a bachelor degree in government from Cornell University in 1954 and studied under the Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov, whom she credited in helping her develop as a writer.

At Cornell, she met her husband, Martin Ginsburg.  They were married after graduation and the couple moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where Martin was stationed as a called-up active-duty United States Army Reserve officer during the Korean War. Ruth Bader worked for the Social Security Administration office in Oklahoma but was demoted after becoming pregnant with her first child. In 1956, Ruth Bader enrolled at Harvard Law School as one of only nine women in a class of about 500 men. When Martin Ginsburg took a job in New York City, Ruth Bader transferred to Columbia Law School. She became the first woman to be on two major law reviews: the Harvard Law Review and Columbia Law Review. In 1959, she completed her law degree at Columbia and graduated tied for first in her class.

At the start of her career, Ruth Bader faced gender discrimination and was rejected for a clerkship. She was able to eventually secure a clerkship under Judge Edmund L. Palmieri of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Ruth Bader entered academia in 1961 as a research associate and then as an associate director of the Columbia Law School Project on International Procedure. She became a professor at Rutgers Law School in 1963 and earned tenure in 1969.  She remained at Rutgers University until 1972 teaching mainly civil procedure. In 1970, she co-founded the Women's Rights Law Reporter, the first law journal in the U.S. to focus exclusively on women's rights. From 1972 to 1980, she taught at Columbia Law School. She co-authored the first law school casebook on sex discrimination and became the first tenured woman of Columbia Law School. She also spent a year as a fellow for the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University from 1977 to 1978.  She steadily grew in stature as a leading advocate for women's rights and gender equality and co-founded the Women's Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), serving as its general counsel from 1973 to 1980.

On April 14, 1980, Ruth Bader was nominated by President Carter to a seat on the DC Circuit. She was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 18, 1980. In 1993, she was elevated to the Supreme Court following the nomination of President Bill Clinton.  She was the first Jewish justice since 1969. She was also the second female, the first Jewish female justice of the Supreme Court, and would become the longest-serving Jewish justice.

Ruth Bader came to be known as the liberal wing of the Court and throughout her tenure consistently supported liberal viewpoints, advocating for abortion rights, LGBTQ+ rights, voting rights, and affirmative action, among other issues. She authored powerful and eloquent dissents. Some of the notable cases in which she played a significant role are:

United States v. Virginia (1996): Ruth Bader was the author of the majority opinion which struck down the male-only admission policy of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI).

Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007): Ruth Bader's dissenting opinion did not prevail, but the case received much attention. It involved a lawsuit by a female employee, Lilly Ledbetter, for gender-based pay discrimination. Bader criticized the majority's interpretation of the statute of limitations for pay discrimination claims but with the passing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, Congress made it easier for workers to challenge pay discrimination.

Obergefell v. Hodges (2015): This was a landmark case in which Bader joined the majority opinion. The Court held that denying same-sex couples the right to marry was a violation of both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The case legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Shelby County v. Holder (2013): Bader wrote a strong dissenting opinion in a case which struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 requiring that jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination had to obtain federal approval before making changes to their voting laws. For Bader, the Court's decision weakened voting rights protections.

Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt (2016): Bader joined the majority opinion in a case which struck down a Texas law imposing strict regulations on abortion clinics. The Court found that these regulations placed an undue burden on women and were unconstitutional.

The visibility of these cases and Ruth Bader’s positions garnered her a widespread following. She became a popular and influential icon of progress, earning her the nickname of "Notorious RBG".  Beyond her legal accomplishments, Ginsburg's life and work made her a much admired figure of commitment and perseverance. Despite her health challenges, her work ethics never faltered. She was a symbol of resilience and a role model, especially for women and young girls aspiring to careers in law and public service.

Ruth Bader's legacy is profound. Her contributions to gender equality and civil rights have had a lasting impact on American society. Supporters of Ruth Bader have praised her for advancing a progressive approach to constitutional interpretation that expanded individual liberties and civil rights for marginalized communities. Her critics, however, have argued that her approach on issues like abortion rights and affirmative action enabled a judicial activism that tilted the Court's balance too far to the left. Lastly, Ruth Bader’s longevity on the Supreme Court has been the subject of some debate.  When, after the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens in 2010 at the age of 90, Ruth Bader became the oldest Justice at age 77, many voices rose to call for her resignation so that another progressive jurist like herself could be appointed by the Obama administration. Ruth Bader retained her post and died in office at the age of 87. Her death opened a vacancy on the Supreme Court and newly elected President Trump picked Amy Coney Barrett to replace her. Barrett was confirmed by the Senate on October 2020.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death in 2020 was followed by an outpouring of tributes. She was a champion for justice and equality who made lasting contributions. Her remarkable life and work continue to be honored, admired and celebrated.


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Collection of Historical Figures Tour

View the map locations of the Collection of Historical Figures statues located throughout the Chapman campuses.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg bust


Gift of
Jennifer Keller

To Commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of Justice Ginsburg's appointment to the United States Supreme Court.

Juan Rosillo

Campus Location
Argyros Forum Pathway