International Judicial Monitor
Published by the International judicial Academy of the International Law Institute, Washington, D.C.
with circulation assistance from the American Society of International Law

Fall 2017 Issue

Justice In Profile


Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice
United States, The Supreme Court

Sergio Moro

By: James G. Apple, Editor-in-Chief, International Judicial Monitor

The  United States Supreme Court is, as of the beginning of the coming year, 229 years old. It took almost two hundred years for the U.S. Government to appoint a female to the Court. Sandra Day O’Connor was the first appointee (by President Ronald Reagan in 1981). The second woman appointee to the Court, is Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, selected in 1993 by President Bill Clinton.

If there were ever a person who could be said the “live the life of the law” it would be Justice Ginsburg. Since graduating from Columbia Law School in 1959 (first in her class), she has been deeply involved in legal matters, legal causes and legal organizations, often on a national scale.. Her achievements and accomplishments in her years living with the law are many.

Justice Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1933. She attended and graduated from high school there and enrolled at Cornell University, from which she graduated in 1954 with a degree in government. She married that same year a law student, Martin D. Ginsburg. She spent the following year caring for her child while her husband served a  two year term as a reserve officer in the U.S. Army. Upon his return from active duty the family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, both parents to attend Harvard Law School. When her husband graduated from Harvard he took a legal position in New York, she followed him and transferred to Columbia Law School, from which she graduated. Upon graduation she secured a position as a law clerk for a U.S. district judge.

There is an anecdote about Justice Ginsburg when she was a student at Harvard Law School. She was one of eight women enrolled in that Law School. The dean of the school supposedly asked the women when there were gathered at one time: “How do you justify taking a spot from a qualified man?” The anecdote is indicative of the gender prejudice that existed not only in law schools but in law practice during the 1950s and 1960s and before Even before her clerkship, and during her pre-Supreme Court life, she had a number of significant accomplishments in her life in the law:

  • Was first in her class at Columbia Law School
  • Taught at Columbia Law School where she became the first female tenured professor
  • Co-authored the first legal textbook on sex discrimination
  • Co-founded the Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the first law journal in the United States with a focus exclusively on women’s rights
  • Became Director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
  • Became General Counsel of the ACLU
  • While at the ACLU argued six cases (as an advocate) before the Supreme Court of the U.S., winning five of them.
  • Argued a case in the Supreme Court which established for the first time that the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution applied to women
  • In 1980 was appointed by U.S. President Jimmy Carter to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the second most important court in the United States (after the Supreme Court).

Justice Ginsburg was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1993. During her more than 24 years as a Supreme Court Justice, she has been an unceasing proponent of women’s rights and gender equality, as can be determine by her decisions and her dissents. It would not be an exaggeration to state that she was been the single most effective proponent of women’s rights in the United States, to such an extent that women’s rights and gender equality have been almost universally accepted in almost all parts of  the nation.

Justice Ginsburg’s  interests during her life in the law has extended to international law. Early in her career, in the 1960s she was a research associate and then associate director of a project of Columbia Law School – the Project on International Procedure. She engaged in research at Lund University in Sweden, in the process learning Swedish to co-author a book in Sweden on civil procedure. While in Sweden she was confronted with the fact that 20% to 25% of the student bodies in Swedish law schools were women, while women in law student bodies in U.S. law schools were virtually non-existent (Note: the author of this commentary attended at about the same time a prominent law school in the U.S. with approximately 900 students, of which six or seven were women). Her Swedish experience undoubtedly influenced her strong advocacy of women’s rights and gender equality later in her career.

Justice Ginsburg has demonstrated through her writings that she supports consulting foreign law and international law “for persuasive value and possible wisdom” but not as binding precedent. She has noted that international law has played a part in the development of American law, and is part of its tradition.

Justice Ginsburg’s life and her contributions to the development of law to promote ideas of equality and fairness serve as inspirations to practicing lawyers and law students for fulfilling the responsibilities that being a member of the profession casts upon  its members. The United States, and perhaps even the world, is a far better place because of her life and work.

ASIl & International Judicial AcademyInternational Judicial Monitor
© 2017 – The International Judicial Academy
with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

Editor: James G. Apple.
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