The Ohio Women’s Bar Association and Foundation grieve the loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed at the age of 87 on September 18, 2020. Ginsburg dedicated her career and life to advocate for justice, especially for gender equality and women’s rights. She was a strategic advocate in advancing equal rights for women; of the five cases she participated in before the U.S. Supreme that resulted in merit opinions, four of her clients were men. Her first case before the Court was as amicus curiae for the ALCU advocating for a female lieutenant of the Air Force who was denied dependent allowances for her spouse. In Frontiero v. Richardson (1973), the Court held different qualifications for female and male military spouses discriminated against women in violation of the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause. Her last case was on behalf of a criminal defendant, where the Court in Duren v. Missouri (1978) held that the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right was violated because women were automatically exempted from jury service upon request; resulting in an all-male jury from a panel that only included 5 women. Ginsburg continued her role as a trailblazer for women in the law by becoming the first woman to earn tenure at Columbia law, serving as a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and then becoming the second female appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Throughout her life and career, Justice Ginsburg also served her family with grace. After graduating at the top of her class at Cornell, she put her education on hold while she and her beloved husband Marty started a family and he completed a two year military commitment. During her first year at Harvard Law School as one of nine women in her 500 member class, she and her classmates endured challenges for “taking a man’s spot’ and won her first of many fights with cancer. When her husband Marty was diagnosed with cancer, she attended classes and took notes for both of them, typing Marty’s papers for him and caring for their daughter, and still making the Harvard Law Review. The Ginsburgs’ marriage defied many gender-norms; they were unashamed in their devotion to each other and their shared legacy has modeled what it means to be a shared-parenting couple.
A notable attribute of Justice Ginsburg that is increasingly rare in our current social and political climate was her collegiality. Her friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia-born when they were both law school professors, forged when they both served on the D.C. Circuit and cemented at the Supreme Court was renowned and described as remarkable. Both had strong, differing opinions—yet both freely admitted each made the other’s writing better—and they valued their friendship immensely. At a time when our country seems more divided than ever, we as lawyers and as people should follow their example to make it more common and less remarkable. To set aside differences in pursuit of justice was a light to the legal system.
To the end of her life Justice Ginsburg fought fiercely against cancer five times, inspiring countless in their own fight with her example of tenacity and grace.
We extend our condolences to her family and friends. We are confident that Justice Ginsburg’s legacy will carry on and lead the way for the future of lawyers – both women and men. To honor her life, let us all follow her example of tenacity, professional collegiality, and devotion to family.