Writing a tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a daunting task, because, despite her petite frame, she was a giant. One of us had the honor of clerking for Justice Ginsburg, and the other only admired her and her career from afar. We, therefore, write this tribute from both the personal and the professional perspective. Regardless of whether one had the pleasure of personally knowing her or merely stood in awe of her career and accomplishments, the same thing is true: Ruth Bader Ginsburg was truly an inspiration, and she provided a great service to our nation.
In many ways, Justice Ginsburg was the embodiment of the “American Dream.” Through hard work and determination, she excelled throughout her educational (juggling both law school and children) and professional careers. As an advocate, she helped to develop the jurisprudence that she was eventually able to apply as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite being born and raised at a time when women, especially Jewish women, did not accomplish such things – she did.
Justice Ginsburg was also the definition of a trailblazer. She marched at the vanguard of equality, serving as one of the first female law professors in the nation. She dedicated her career to gender equality and women’s rights, winning most of her arguments in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Of course, later in life, she became the second woman to join the U.S. Supreme Court.
Justice Ginsburg was a brilliant legal thinker and tireless worker. As a working mother, she developed the habit of writing late into the night, when her children were asleep. This became a lifelong habit; she was a night owl who could outlast any of her clerks. She meticulously shaped each opinion, ensuring that no word was out of place, striving for clarity and precision.
Yet she also knew how to enjoy life. She was a dedicated patron of the opera and lover of the arts. She wore opera gloves like a diva, exercised like a tennis pro, and was passionate about celebrating birthdays and special occasions. Her marriage to Marty Ginsburg was a model of lifelong love, an exemplar of mutual support and equality between partners.
Justice Ginsburg was a prominent legal figure even before her ascent to the Supreme Court. But she reached a new level of fame in her later years as a new generation elevated her as a role model and feminist icon, the “notorious RBG” who fought for equal rights and blazed trails for women in a variety of professions. She took her newfound fame in stride, remaining modest but recognizing the value of being an inspirational figure for future leaders. She never dwelled on the obstacles of the past, but she remembered how far she had come.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg inspired all of us – through brilliant advocacy and fashion choices and sheer perseverance. She made us believe and hope. She was a role model of how to shape a better, brighter future. She also revolutionized what it means to dissent; through her forceful dissents, she was speaking to future ages.
In everything Justice Ginsburg did, she worked to make her community and our nation a little bit better. She famously said, “If you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself, something to repair tears in your community, something to make life a little better for people less fortunate than you. That’s what I think a meaningful life is, living not for oneself, but for one’s community.” Her life was an example of this principle. As she climbed the ladder, she carried us along, hanging on to her famous collar.
As we ponder Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing, many of us find ourselves asking what we can do to honor her legacy. We can honor Justice Ginsburg through persistent engagement with our communities. We can honor her by dissenting passionately and in ways that inspire future generations. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legacy encourages us all to fight injustice where we see it in our communities, and to live meaningful lives.