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  • Kayla Arch

The Trailblazer of Human Rights: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Lasting Impact on American Society

A feminist, an advocate, a pop-culture icon, a fighter. There are many characteristics that Ruth Bader Ginsburg embodied in her inspirational and successful lifetime and these few are just a glimpse into the impact she has had. Ginsburg worked her way from the ground up, earning many different opportunities through her hard work and intelligence in a man's world. She started law school at Harvard and then transferred to Columbia Law school, she then became a very successful lawyer and won five cases before the Supreme Court, until she herself was finally nominated to the Supreme Court. Ginsburg has been and continues to be a role model for young girls, including myself, to attend higher education and work towards a high profile profession.

Ginsburg’s intelligence and grit first began to shine through when obtaining her law degree. She first began attending Harvard law school in 1956, being only 1 of 9 women compared to the 500 men in the class. While at Harvard, Ginsburg was on the backhand of many sexist encounters, where many male students and faculty members did not take her enrollment seriously. But these encounters of discrimination only seemed to motivate Ginsburg at her time at Harvard. Not only did she complete and excel in her own course work, she also earned a seat on the Harvard Law Review.

For her third year of law school however, Ginsburg and her family moved to New York due to her husband's new job, and she transferred to Columbia Law school. At Columbia, she earned a seat at the Columbia Law Review and graduated at the top of her class. By excelling at both institutions, Ginsburg became an inspiration to female aspiring lawyers, with about 50% of graduating law students being women around the world today. But not only do the statistics represent this societal change, but women are also getting more of the respect they deserve in the legal field. Ginsburg helped pave the path for women to explore and excel in prestigious academic institutions and normalized entering fields that predominantly contain men.

The passion for gender equality and human rights in America came through in her early work as a lawyer. In 1972, Ginsburg joined the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and founded the Women’s Rights Project. It was this section of the ACLU that discovered over hundreds of federal laws that discriminated on the basis of sex, and Ginsburg was determined to take down every one. Not only did she play a role in 34 cases presented to the Supreme Court, Ginsburg argued and won five out of six cases before the Supreme Court. One of the more notable cases Ginsburg argued before the Supreme Court was her first one, Frontiero, where she argued on the behalf of Joseph Frontiero, husband of a female Air Force officer, when he was denied housing and medical benefits that only female spouses of male Air Force officer’s receive. It was in this case where she quoted Sarah Grimkè, a women’s right advocate, in order to reach the nine male justices saying “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” Much like this case, it was clear that in order to reach the stubborn minds of these male justices, they needed to view sex discrination against men to see that it actually exists altogther. Ginsburg was patient in this fight for gender equality. By using practical strategies and intelligent arguments, Ginsburg was able to convince the minds of these judges on many different occasions, creating a lasting impact on the female population in America. In order for women to be seen as equal in this country, Ginsburg knew that we needed to be equal according to federal law.

Ginsburg was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. She was the second woman to be nominated into the Supreme Court in United States history, and was approved by the Senate with a near unanimous vote of 96 to 3. Serving on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg continued to work on cases regarding gender equality, including cases such as United States v. Virgina. In this case, Ginsburg reversed the male-only admissions policy that was upheld at the Virginia Military Institution. Later on during her tenure on the Supreme Court, as the Court became more conservative, Ginsburg became notable for her use of dissents, including one that sparked social media attention, creating her into a cultural icon across the country and the rest of the world. Dissenting in monumental cases such as Shelby County v. Holder resulted in a Tumblr account giving her the now famous nickname, the Notorious R.B.G. This social media craze resulted in t-shirts, stickers, posters, and more in honor of Justice Ginsburg.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has inspired millions of people, especially young women, to strive for success even if no one is routing for you. Ginsburg’s consistent determination to fight for human rights in America shows the selflessness, intelligence, and poise she carried with her every day. Her impact and presence within the United States Supreme Court had and always will have a lasting impact on future generations of Americans to come.


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