US Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died today at the age of 87. She lived her life as a fighter for equality and justice, and had overcome cancer multiple times before succumbing to her most recent bout.
A true trailblazer for women’s rights in the workplace and out of it, Ginsburg had a razor sharp view of the world and how to live in it.
Ginsburg’s proudest professional moment was the result of a losing argument
In her dissent in Lilly Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, Ginsburg pointed out that the unlawful employment practice of paying Ledbetter less because of her gender occurred with every paycheck. Ultimately, the justices ruled that Ledbetter missed the chance to seek relief because she didn’t file a timely claim. Ginsburg disagreed, saying Ledbetter was entitled to sue as long as it was within 180 days of a paycheck. In the last line, she opined that lawmakers should correct her colleagues.
“I urged Congress to adopt a new view and it did,” Ginsburg said gleefully, the pleasure evident in her voice and face as she remembered the moment of her vindication a decade later, at a Georgetown Law event. In 2009, legislators passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first law approved under Barack Obama’s presidency.
Read more about what Ginsburg said were her proudest moments. →
Ginsburg used marital advice from her mother-in-law in every workplace she’s been in
On her wedding day, Ginsburg’s mother-in-law told her, “it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.” She told an audience at Stanford University that the advice has traveled beyond her marriage and into every place she’s worked—including the Supreme Court. “When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”
Ginsburg encouraged women to be themselves rather than others’ expectations
Asked to give “strategic advice” to women accused of being “shrill” or having an “irritating” voice at an event at the 92Y in New York City, Ginsburg’s answer was swift and blunt: “You should speak in your own voice.”
She recalled a headline in USA Today that called her “Rude Ruth” after she mistakenly interrupted justice Sandra Day O’Connor following an oral argument. Ginsburg said that one op-ed writer tried to explain the incident by characterizing her as a “fast-talking Jew from New York” and O’Connor as a “laid back girl of the golden west,” even though Ginsburg spoke far more slowly.
A study of interruptions in the US Supreme Court published in 2017 found that the women on the court are interrupted three times as often as the men.
Read more about the sexism Ginsburg faced on the court and how men would confuse her with fellow justice Sandra Day O’Connor. →
Having a sense of purpose kept Ginsburg alive
Ginsburg felt her work kept her going. She was known to review briefs from her hospital bed. “The work is really what saved me, because I had to concentrate on reading the briefs, doing a draft of an opinion, and I knew it had to get done. So I had to get past whatever my aches and pains were just to do the job.”
Ginsburg faced criticism for staying on the court so long, but recalled to NPR that a former colleague encouraged her to keep on working. She saw former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens at a conference in Lisbon the week before he died at 99 years old. When she told him her dream is to serve on the court as long as he did—35 years from 1975 to 2010—he urged her to “stay longer.”
Read more about how justice Ginsburg viewed her work on the court and career in 2019. →