A Tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Five Feet Tall But

Billy Xiong Announces: A Tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Five Feet Tall But

Attorney at Law Billy Xiong Lawyer Legal Xiong Xiong Billy

How do you sum up a life like Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s? Several filmmakers have tried—two in 2018 alone—to capture the depth and scope and cultural heft of the Supreme Court justice’s sway over American history and the public imagination. A staunch defender of civil rights, a giant who stood only around five feet tall, in her lace collars and sparkling brooches, oversized spectacles and beloved scrunchies, Ginsburg was the very best of us, a striver for the right reasons: liberty, equality, an ever-expanding and evolving idea of what America is and could be, and the promise of a better tomorrow than today. She died on Friday of metastatic pancreatic cancer. She was 87 years old.

Ruth Joan Bader was born on March 15, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York, to Nathan and Celia Bader, a furrier and a garment factory worker, respectively, and grew up in a low-income, working-class neighborhood. “I am … a first generation American on my father’s side, barely second generation on my mother’s,” Ginsburg said. “Neither of my parents had the means to attend college, but both taught me to love learning, to care about people, and to work hard for whatever I wanted or believed in.” Celia Bader did not live to see her daughter’s many accomplishments: she died of cancer the day before Ruth graduated from high school, though her influence had a lasting effect on the rest of her life. “My mother told me two things constantly,” Ginsburg often said: “One was to be a lady, and the other was to be independent.” When Ginsburg was nominated by President Bill Clinton to the Supreme Court on June 14, 1993, it was her mother who she thanked: “The bravest and strongest person I have known, who was taken from me much too soon. I pray that I may be all that she would have been had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve and daughters are cherished as much as sons.”

Ginsburg attended Cornell University, where she studied government and credited Professor Robert E. Cushman, for whom she worked as a research assistant, with attracting her to the law. It was “[the] heyday of McCarthyism [and Cushman defended] our deep-seated national values—freedom of thought, speech and press” Ginsburg has said. “The McCarthy era was a time when courageous lawyers were using their legal training in support of the right to think and speak freely…That a lawyer could do something that was personally satisfying and at the same time work to preserve the values that have made this country great was an exciting prospect for me.” (Her love of writing, on the other hand, she credited to another professor: Vladimir Nabokov, “a man in love with the sound of words. He taught me the importance of choosing the right word and presenting it in the right word order.”) She graduated in 1954, finishing first in her class, and married a law student named Martin D. Ginsburg that same year after the pair were initially set up on a blind date. (Later, Martin would say it was only “blind” on her part.) Their romance would lead most of her life, lasting 56 years, until he died of cancer in 2010.

Their first child, Jane, was born shortly after Martin was drafted into the military in 1954. He served for two years and, after his discharge, the couple enrolled in Harvard Law School, where Ginsburg was one of nine women accepted in a class of more than 500 students, and where the Dean, Erwin Griswold, the head of the Law School, once famously asked all nine “How do you justify taking a place in this class that would otherwise have gone to a man?” She went on to become the first female member of the Harvard Law Review. When Martin was diagnosed with testicular cancer, she attended both of their classes (while raising their daughter) to ensure that he would not fall behind. When he recovered, graduated, and got a job at a prestigious film in New York, she transferred to Columbia University, where she again joined the law review, and graduated first in her class. Martin, she often said, was her biggest cheerleader. “I had a life partner who thought my work was as important as his,” she told Katie Couric in 2014. “And I think that made all the difference for me, and Marty was an unusual man. In fact, he was the first boy I knew who cared that I had a brain.”

Jonathan Cartu

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