by LAWRENCE HURLEY VIA REUTERS BREAKINGVIEWS
Ruth Bader Ginsburg became a heroine to the American left after overcoming entrenched sexism in the legal profession to ascend to the U.S. Supreme Court, where she championed gender equality and other liberal causes during 27 years on the bench.
Ginsburg, who died on Friday at age 87 of complications from pancreatic cancer, was a fierce advocate for women’s rights – winning major gender-discrimination cases before the Supreme Court – before being appointed to the top U.S. judicial body by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1993. The diminutive dynamo became the court’s leading liberal voice.
Rising from a working-class family in New York City’s borough of Brooklyn, Ginsburg overcame hostility toward women in the male-dominated worlds of law school and the legal profession to become just the second woman ever to serve on the nine-member Supreme Court.
During her final years on the court, Ginsburg became something of a pop icon for American liberals, the subject of the 2018 feature film “On the Basis of Sex,” the 2018 Academy Award-nominated documentary “RBG” and sketches on the popular TV show “Saturday Night Live” – even inspiring an action figure.
Her small stature – she stood 5-foot, 1-inch tall (155 cm) – and frailty in later years belied an outsize persona and clout. Fans called her “The Notorious R.B.G.,” inspired by the late American rapper The Notorious B.I.G.
“I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks,” Ginsburg said in the documentary, summing up her lifelong work toward gender equality.
Ginsburg was a reliable vote in favor of liberal causes on the court on other issues as well including defending abortion rights, expanding gay rights, preserving the Obamacare healthcare law, and advancing the rights of racial minorities the poor and disenfranchised.
Her death gives Republican President Donald Trump the opportunity to make his third appointment to the court and expand its conservative majority to 6-3.
Ginsburg had experienced a series of health issues. In July she disclosed she had a recurrence of cancer after bouts with pancreatic cancer in 2019 and 2009. She also survived bouts with lung cancer in 2018 and colon cancer in 1999. Even amid these health scares, she remained vigorous, seen in the 2018 documentary working out and lifting weights with a personal trainer while donning a blue sweatshirt emblazoned with the words “SUPER DIVA.”
President Jimmy Carter made Ginsburg a federal appellate judge in 1980 and Clinton elevated her to the Supreme Court 13 years later. She joined Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who became the first woman justice in 1981, on the bench. During her tenure, two more women were named to the high court: Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
When asked how many women there should be on the court, Ginsburg, with an impish smile, always gave the same answer: “Nine.”
Before joining the judiciary, Ginsburg was an intellectually fierce lawyer in New York and New Jersey who endured the death of her mother shortly before her high school graduation and went on to be elected to the law reviews at both Harvard and Columbia Law Schools. In the 1970s, she won five of six gender discrimination cases she argued before the Supreme Court, in fields as varied as military and Social Security benefits, property tax and rules governing jury duty.