MAKERS Profile

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Supreme Court Justice

In this video

Ruth Bader Ginsburg on breaking legal ground for women, her first case before the Supreme Court, and her husband's support.
Long before Ruth Bader Ginsburg became only the second woman ever appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, she broke countless legal and professional barriers for women. Raised in a working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY, Ginsburg graduated first in her class from Cornell University in 1954. She started a family with her college sweetheart Martin Ginsburg and enrolled in Harvard Law School where she was one of only nine women in her class. She became one of the first woman elected to the Harvard Law Review, a feat she repeated at Columbia Law School, where she transferred for her final year.   Although Ginsburg graduated first in her class from Columbia, she found herself turned away by most law firms and judges who refused to hire a woman. Thanks to the extensive intervention of a Columbia professor, she secured a judicial clerkship in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. In 1963, she began teaching at Rutgers University Law School, one of only twenty women or so teaching law in the country at that time. She went on to teach at Columbia Law School from 1972 to 1980 and there became the school's first female tenured professor.   At the same time that Ginsburg was setting new professional precedents for women she was turning her attention to their unequal treatment under the law. As a volunteer lawyer at the New Jersey offices of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the 1960s, she saw a growing number of sex discrimination cases brought, thanks to the just-passed 1964 Civil Rights Act’s Title VII. Inspired by these cases and the interest of her students, she began teaching on women in the law and in 1970, co-founded the Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the first law journal in the U.S. to focus exclusively on women's rights. She later co-founded the Women's Rights Project at the ACLU, and as its chief litigator, briefed and argued several landmark cases in front of the Supreme Court. Her victories in those cases directly led to the end of gender discrimination in many areas of the law.     In 1980, President Carter appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. She served there until she was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993 by President Clinton. On the court, she has remained a strong voice in favor of gender equality and civil liberties, as well as the rights of workers, and the separation of church and state. In 1996, she wrote the court’s landmark decision in United States v. Virginia, which held that the state-supported Virginia Military Institute could not refuse to admit women. In 1999, she won the American Bar Association's Thurgood Marshall Award for her contributions to gender equality and civil rights.

More From Ruth Bader

Mom's Message
Justice Ginsburg shares her mother's two important messages to her as a girl.

My Dear Marty
Justice Ginsburg talks about her relationship with her beloved, late husband Marty, a man ahead of his time when it came to gender.

Rejected by the Firm
Justice Ginsburg reflects on the different life she might have led if law firms had been open to hiring women when she left law school.

Legal Strategy
Justice Ginsburg explains the strategy she pursued in the seminal sex discrmination cases she argued in the 70s.

Women and the Law
Justice Ginsburg on preparing to teach her first law course on women and the law in 1970.

Eye Opener
Justice Ginsburg talks about the experiences that got her thinking about gender inequality and the law.

Women on the Bench
Justice Ginsburg recounts the all-too-brief history of women appointed to the judicial bench.

Friends on the Court
Justice Ginsburg attests to the friendship and support she's received from her fellow Supreme Court justices.

Free to Be... You and Me… and a Feminist
Justice Ginsburg defines feminism via Marlo Thomas's iconic "Free To Be… You and Me" record.

Just as Long as She's Married
Justice Ginsburg explains that her family was not especially pleased with her career choice at first.

Choosing Law
Justice Ginsburg chose a career in law as a way to make positive change in the world.