Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice and SUNY honorary degree awardee, died, aged 87

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a prominent women's rights activist known for her ceiling-smashing work as the second female Supreme Court Justice, died yesterday of complications due to  metastatic pancreatic cancer today, aged 87.

During her 27 year long career at the nation’s highest court, she attained a “rockstar” like level of stardom that earned her nicknames like the "Notorious R.B.G.” 

Ginsburg visited UB last year to accept an Honorary Doctor of Laws — the highest form of academic recognition awarded by the State University of New York. 

Her visit — arranged by the School of Law and the UB Law Alumni Association, the Bar Association of Erie County, the Western New York Chapter of the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York and the Minority Bar Association of Western New York — was marked by a well-attended public ceremony that attracted coverage by various news outlets, such as CNN, TIME, CBS Evening News, Associated Press, USA Today and The Washington Post.

Before presenting the honorary degree to Ginsburg, SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson reflected on Ginsburg's decades-long advocacy for women's rights and lauded her “radical feminist goals.”

“Justice Ginsburg, writing for the majority in the landmark 7-1 Supreme Court decision striking down the longstanding male-only admissions policy of the Virginia Military Institute, found the policy to violate the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law,” Johnson said. “I, for one, would like to thank Justice Ginsburg for those radical feminist goals.”

Ginsburg was born to Jewish immigrant parents in Flatbush, Brooklyn in 1933. After graduating high school, she moved to Ithaca, NY to attend Cornell University, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1954. 

After graduating from Cornell and confronting sexism in the workplace, Ginsburg decided to obtain a law degree. Ginsburg graduated from Columbia Law School in 1959, but struggled to find a job practicing law as a Jewish-American woman and mother. Unable to find work, Ginsburg became a professor and mentor to dozens of female law students at Rutgers Law School. 

In 1971, Ginsburg garnered public attention after filing the lead brief examining gender inequalities in laws governing estate management in Reed v Reed -- the basis of the 2018 film “On the Basis of Sex.”

The court backed Ginsburg’s arguments against systemic sexism. This ruling marked the first time the Supreme Court had struck down a law on the basis of gender discrimination. 

The following year, Ginsburg made history as the first tenured female law professor at Columbia University. That same year, she also co-founded the Women's Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). 

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She left the Court of Appeals, however, in 1993 Bill Clinton nominated Ginsburg to serve on the Supreme Court, where she would serve continuously from her appointment in August of 1993 until her death. 

During her acceptance of the honorary degree at UB, Ginsburg spoke fondly of her “exhilarating” fight against gender inequality and sexism.

“It was exhilarating to help bring down the barriers to making it more appropriate to place women on a pedestal, as opposed to a cage,” said Justice Ginsburg.

Elizabeth Napolitano is the senior news editor and can be reached at elizabeth.napolitano@ubspectrum.com.

ELIZABETH NAPOLITANO


Elizabeth "Liz" Napolitano is the senior news editor for The Spectrum. She's an optimistic pessimist who found her love for journalism in Ecuador. She likes late night walks and reading Twitter threads in their entirety.