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Ruth Bader Ginsburg

(1933 - )

When Ruth Bader Ginsburg was sworn in as the 107th justice to the United States Supreme Court in August 1993, she became the second woman to sit on this court (Sandra Day O'Connor was the first), the first Jewish justice since 1969, and the first female Jewish justice.

She was born on March 15, 1933, the daughter of Celia and Nathan Bader, in Brooklyn, New York. Nathan Bader was a furrier and came to the United States from Russia when he was 13. Her mother, Celia, was born in the United States and had a strong passion for reading, language and the love of books. Ruth Bader was one of two daughters; her older sister, Marilyn, died of meningitis and she was reared as an only child.

She was an excellent student in school, graduating at the top of her class in grammar school and proving herself an academic leader in high school. She was confirmed with honors from the East Midwood Jewish Center. Ginsburg was very active in high school where she played the cello in the orchestra, was a member of Arista, was a cheerleader and a baton twirler and the editor of her high school newspaper. Her mother died the day before she was to graduate from James Madison High School.

Following high school, she recieved a New York State scholarship and studied at Cornell University where she worked as a research assistant for Professor Robert E. Cushman, which was where she first became interested in law. She also credits Professor Vladimir Nabokov for continuing her interest in words and writing; skills that would later be useful as a lawyer. After earning her B.A. degree in government from Cornell in 1954, she married Martin D. Ginsburg, who had graduated Cornell the year before. He was called for military service the same year and they lived at Fort Sill, Oklahoma for two years. It was during this period that Ruth Ginsburg experienced sex discrimination.

She applied for a job with the local social security office while she was pregnant. She was appointed to a position and when she told them that she was pregnant, they demoted her three levels in pay. Another woman, who was appointed and never told them of her pregnancy, received no pay reduction.

After her husband completed his military service, they moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they both enrolled in Harvard Law School. She transferred to Columbia Law School after her husband graduated Harvard Law School and obtained a job in Manhattan.

Following her graduation, she experienced gender discrimination but, in part due to the recommendations of male lawyers, she was hired as a clerk for Federal District Judge Edward L. Palmieri. She spent two years on a Columbia Law School project and became the second woman to join the faculty of Rutgers Law School. During her career as a laywer, she tried many cases for the American Civil Liberties Union before the United States Supreme Court. During a Senate hearing, she explained her own experience with discrimination:

Senator Kennedy, I am alert to discrimination. I grew up during World War II in a Jewish family. I have memories as a child, even before the war, of being in a car with my parents and passing a place in [Pennsylvania], a resort with a sign out in front that read: “No dogs or Jews allowed.” Signs of that kind existed in this country during my childhood. One couldn’t help but be sensitive to discrimination living as a Jew in America at the time of World War II.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was nominated by President Jimmy Carter to the United States Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia. She was sworn in on June 30, 1980, and served for thirteen years.

President Bill Clinton was confronted with a vacancy on the Supreme Court after Judge Byron R. White resigned. After three months of searching for a candidate, he nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg. During her Senate confirmation hearings, she did not answer any questions concerning issues that were coming up before the court. Her nomination was approved by the Senate by a vote of ninety-six to three and she was sworn in on August 10, 1993.

Sources: This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism, ? 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.

Jewish Women's Archive.