The Inspirational History of "The Notorious R.B.G."

May 3, 2024 | Akshaya Aalla

As one of nine women in Harvard Law School’s class of 1959, Ruth Bader Ginsburg faced numerous challenges in her journey. Now, posthumously remembered as the Notorious R.BG., her legacy has left a formidable mark in the world of justice, equality, and women’s rights during the time of her career. 

Throughout her career, she has made quite the mark – Ginsburg made contributions to multiple communities, such as the Jewish population within the Supreme Court Bar, and same-sex couples as she was the first justice to officiate a same-sex marriage in 2013. Further, she diversified the court with her gender, being one of the few women to serve as a Supreme Court judge.

During the early years of her life, Ginsburg’s family valued higher education and fostered her love for learning. Her familial ideals  pushed her to attend Cornell University, where she graduated with high honors in government and distinction in all subjects in 1954. 

Following her graduation from Cornell, she enrolled and attended Harvard Law School. Unfortunately, Ginsburg was only one of nine in her class. She was often faced with gender discrimination, and her and her peers were used as ‘comic relief’ in the classroom. In addition, the women of her class were excluded from sections of the library, making it harder to obtain information crucial to their education. 

For her final year of law school, Ginsburg transferred to Columbia in 1958 due to accepting a position at a law firm located in NYC. Throughout her educational journey, she made the Harvard and Columbia law review, which are both journals dedicated to legal scholarship. She graduated top of her class in 1959 with her law degree.

Surprisingly, her academic achievements did not do much when she went on to find a job. 

In an interview provided by the National Women’s History Museum, “In the fifties, the traditional law firms were just beginning to turn around on hiring Jews,” she explained. “...To be a woman, a Jew, and a mother to boot that combination was a bit much.” 

After bouncing around positions, she was later appointed to the United States Court of Appeals.  She served for 13 years on the Court of Appeals, until she was nominated as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court by Bill Clinton in 1993. 

Following her acceptance of the nomination, she took her seat on August 10, 1993. This was a historical turning point for the Supreme Court, as she was the second woman and first Jewish woman to serve on the Supreme Court. 

While Ginsburg held the title of Supreme Court Justice, she used her power to influence and fiercely advocated for gender equality and women's rights.

To support women's rights, Ginsburg became involved with the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and was a key member in founding their Women’s Rights Project in 1971.  Additionally, she crafted the court's opinion of the United States v. Virginia case, which ruled that women who met the requirements could not be excluded from enrollment at the Virginia Military Institute.

In 2013, Ginsburg was given the alter ego of the “Notorious R.B.G” by a law student who created a Tumblr account in honor of her. She became an overnight sensation, with  memes, merchandise and books were among the various items her face became plastered on. Ginsberg embraced her popularity with the youth and even appeared on an episode of The Late Night Show with Stephen Colbert, in which she performed her workout routine. 

She was a champion of women’s rights and continues to be inspirational to young girls aspiring to break barriers across the world. As her biopic “On the Basis of Sex” details, she faced gender discrimination and inequality throughout her career and overcame these challenges with her resilience, while also fighting against unfair treatment in matters of gender at court. Her landmark cases and decisions reshaped the legal framework and social attitudes. Ginsburg's influence is substantial in the areas of reproductive rights, workplace discrimination, and LGBTQ+ equality. 

In her capacity as a justice in the US Supreme Court, she had maintained her position a liberal stalwart throughout, and held a consistent record of progressive political views. Following her passing in September 2020, a fierce political and ideological battle emerged over her successor's nomination. 

Days before her death, she told her granddaughter that her most fervent wish was that she would not be replaced until a new president was installed; foreshadowing the upcoming tussle. Republicans sought to swiftly fill the vacancy with a conservative justice, which raised concerns among Democrats about the court's future decisions on healthcare, reproductive rights, and civil liberties.

Nominated by then President Donald Trump, Judge Amy Coney Barrett replaced Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg after a senate vote a few months later, shifting the Supreme Court’s ideological balance, which has been reflected in decisions made since.

However, the fight that came after RBG’s death did not diminish her legacy. Hundreds gathered in front of the Supreme Court in Washington D.C to pay their respects and place flowers and messages. Ruth Bader Ginsburg's legacy continues to be one of pioneering gender equality, legal brilliance, and progressive values and many young women look up to her as they go about their paths in impacting the world positively.

Image Credit: CNBC