10 Things You Didn't Know About Ruth Bader Ginsburg

10 interesting facts about the Supreme Court justice.


1. Ruth Joan Bader was born on March 15, 1933, in Brooklyn, N.Y. The second child of Nathan and Celia (their first daughter, Marilyn, died of meningitis when Ruth was young), the Baders lived in the Flatbush neighborhood. Her father sold furs, then later was a haberdasher. In school, Ruth was a baton twirler, cello player in the orchestra, and member of both the pep squad and the honor society.

2. Ruth's mother took her on frequent trips to the library and instilled in her a devotion to learning. Celia battled cervical cancer while Ruth was in high school, dying the day before Ruth's graduation ceremony. During her remarks upon nomination to the Supreme Court, Ruth spoke of her mother as "the bravest and strongest person I have known, who was taken from me much too soon. I pray that I may be all that she would have been had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve and daughters are cherished as much as sons."

3. Ruth met her husband, Martin David Ginsburg, while attending Cornell University. She was an excellent student, among the top women in her class. She and Martin married the year she graduated, 1954. The couple's law school plans were put on hold when Martin was drafted into the Army. They spent two years at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, where they had their daughter, Jane.

4. Next, they both returned to study at Harvard Law School, where Ruth was on the Harvard Law Review. During this time, Martin was diagnosed with testicular cancer, undergoing surgery and radiation. While taking care of her ill husband and young daughter as well as maintaining her own studies, Ruth helped keep her husband up to speed in his classes and typed his papers from his dictation. Martin fully recovered and upon graduation got a job in New York City. The family moved, and Ruth transferred to Columbia for her last year of law school. Earning high honors again, she was on the Columbia Law Review and graduated at the top of her class in 1959.

5. After law school, Ginsburg spent time as a law clerk and then worked on a comparative law project studying the Swedish legal system. In 1963, she began teaching at Rutgers University Law School. In 1965, she hid her second pregnancy by wearing oversize clothes to avoid discriminatory employment practices. She gave birth to son James over the summer break and returned to work that fall.

6. Ginsburg has experienced gender discrimination during her career. While at Harvard Law, she and the others in the small group of female students were asked how it felt to be taking up the spots of more-deserving, qualified males. Upon graduation, many firms were not interested in hiring her, despite her high honors. She would later write, "The traditional law firms were just beginning to turn around on hiring Jews. But to be a woman, a Jew, and a mother to boot—that combination was a bit too much."

7. In the early 1970s, Ginsburg became the director of the Women's Rights Project at the ACLU. There, she litigated gender-equality cases, winning five of the six cases she argued before the Supreme Court. Her cases dealt with instances when not only women but also men and families were victims of discriminatory laws. In 1972, she received tenure at Columbia Law School, becoming the school's first tenured female professor.

8. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed Ginsburg to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. During her time on the court, she established a reputation for consensus-building and well-reasoned, dispassionate arguments—writing more than 300 opinions.

9. In 1993, Ginsburg was President Bill Clinton's first appointment to the Supreme Court. During the announcement of her nomination, Clinton said, "Many admirers of her work say that she is to the women's movement what former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was to the movement for the rights of African-Americans." Ginsburg took the oath of office on Aug. 10, 1993, becoming the second female jurist on the nation's highest court.