In Memoriam: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

In Memoriam: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman appointed to the Court and a trailblazing advocate for gender equality, has died.

"Our nation has lost a justice of historic stature," Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts said. "We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her, a tireless and resolute champion of justice."

At ALI’s 2018 Annual Meeting, Chief Justice Roberts presented ALI’s Henry J. Friendly medal to Justice Ginsburg (video below). On the occasion of the award, ALI President David F. Levi remarked, “Justice Ginsburg embodies the thoughtfulness, dedication, and analytical power of Judge Friendly. She has made remarkable contributions to the law over the course of her long and distinguished career on the bench and before that as an advocate and law professor. Her work to advance the status and treatment of women is justly celebrated and is a lasting influence on the law and the legal system.”

A legal and cultural icon, Justice Ginsburg was a central figure of the legal fight for women's rights in the 1970s. Prior to her appointment on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1980, she was a leader in the courts and co-founded the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. Her victories opened doors for women throughout the United States, and made her an icon, a status that she maintained through the end of her life. 

Justice Ginsburg maintained a sense of humor and humility about her fame. Upon receiving the Friendly Medal, she remarked, “A word about the notoriety I have recently attracted. It is amazing that at my advanced age, 85, so many people want to take a picture with me. T-shirts, tote bags, bibs, mugs, closet fresheners, coloring books, even tattoos bear my name and face. The tumblr that started it all was launched by a second year student at N.Y.U. Law School. She detected a certain resemblance between the rapper, the Notorious B.I.G., and me: We were both born and bred in Brooklyn, New York. I suppose young people latched onto me because they yearn for something advancing society’s welfare to believe possible. And I fit that bill because I had the good fortune to be alive and a lawyer when society was prepared to accord equal citizenship stature to women. Helping to propel that change was enormously satisfying.”

Justice Ginsburg served on ALI’s Council from 1978 to 1993. ALI’s Immediate Past President Roberta Cooper Ramo, Justice Ginsburg’s longtime friend, sat on stage with Justice Ginsburg at the 2017 Annual Meeting to discuss topics ranging from the Equal Rights Amendment and the importance of dissenting opinions to the opera (video). Justice Ginsburg told a story that demonstrated her continuing role in the fight for equal rights, “Perhaps three times a year, not more. You will read a dissent from the bench if you think not only did the Court get it wrong, its error was egregious. That’s why I read the Lilly Ledbetter dissent from the bench. When one writes that kind of dissent, an immediate audience is in mind, and that audience is Congress. For example, in the 1970s, the Supreme Court held, both under Title VII and under the equal-protection principle, that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is not discrimination on the basis of sex. Congress, in short order, passed a bill that was the soul of simplicity, it simply said: Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is discrimination on the basis of sex. In the Lilly Ledbetter dissent, my last line was: The ball is now in Congress’ court to correct the error into which my colleagues have fallen. That bill, too, like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, passed with overwhelming majorities in both houses.”

On Justice Ginsburg’s influence and legacy, Ms. Ramo said, “Justice Ginsburg loved the law, the ideals of justice, the American democracy, opera and The American Law Institute.  She saw us as lawyers and judges at the peak, working together from very different starting points, listening respectfully to come to consensus to make the law work better for Americans.  Her legacy must live in how all of us live our lives as lawyers, as judges and as American citizens. We must cherish not her fame, but her ideals.  And I know as she did, that The American Law Institute will do just that.”

Just this week, on Thursday, September 17, 2020 the National Constitution Center awarded the 32nd annual Liberty Medal to Justice Ginsburg for her efforts to advance liberty and equality for all. You may view the ceremony on the National Constitution’s website.

Justice Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn, New York, March 15, 1933. She received her B.A. from Cornell University, attended Harvard Law School, and received her LL.B. from Columbia Law School. She served as a law clerk to the Honorable Edmund L. Palmieri, Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, from 1959 to 1961. From 1961 to 1963, she was a research associate and then associate director of the Columbia Law School Project on International Procedure. She was a Professor of Law at Rutgers University School of Law from 1963 to 1972, and Columbia Law School from 1972 to 1980, and a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, California from 1977 to 1978. In 1971, she co-founded the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, and served as the ACLU’s General Counsel from 1973 to 1980, and on the National Board of Directors from 1974 to 1980. She served on the Board and Executive Committee of the American Bar Foundation from 1979 to 1989, on the Board of Editors of the American Bar Association Journal from 1972 to 1978, and on the Council of The American Law Institute from 1978 to 1993. She was appointed a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1980. President Clinton nominated her as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and she took her seat August 10, 1993.

Everyone at The American Law Institute who had the privilege to work with or learn from Justice Ginsburg extends our deepest condolences to her daughter, ALI member Jane Ginsburg, other family, friends, and colleagues. 

ALI Council Members Remember Justice Ginsburg:

Clerking For Ginsburg: My RBG Guide To Judging – Goodwin Liu, Law360
Ginsburg’s vision led us to a better America. We can do the same. – Goodwin Liu, The Washington Post
Clerking for Justice Ginsburg was a gift beyond measure – Goodwin Liu,
‘Her Black Coffee Always Brewed Strong’ – Abbe R. Gluck and Gillian E. Metzger, The New York Times