‘Bubbe, You Were Sleeping at the State of the Union!’

Calla Lily ProfileArleen Solomon Rotchin3 Comments
Photo by Jack Gruber

Photo by Jack Gruber

Supreme Court Justice, 81-year old Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the legal pioneer who trail blazed her way during the 50’s and 60’s when women were just beginning to make their mark in male dominated professions gets called out by her granddaughter for nodding off during Obama’s State of the Union Address.  

Her snooze did not go unnoticed.  It got 732 tweets, 613 favorites and 20,000 shares.  Ginsburg confessed she was not 100 percent sober and blamed her state on the fine California wine she had at dinner.  

In 1970, Ruth Bader Ginsburg co-founded the Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the first law journal in the United States to focus exclusively on women’s rights.   She is a strong voice for gender equality, not only fighting for women’s rights but also setting the example of not being able to get a job at law firms to becoming the second female sitting on the Supreme Court of the United States when Clinton appointed her in 1993.

Clinton looks on as Bader signs the Court’s Oath, October 1, 1993.  Photo by Ken Heinen

Clinton looks on as Bader signs the Court’s Oath, October 1, 1993.
Photo by Ken Heinen

Ruth Bader received a scholarship to attend Cornell University where she had the reputation of being beautiful, popular and exceptionally smart, graduating Phi Beta Kapa.  She met Martin D. Ginsberg, another pre-law student, and they married in 1954, just after Ruth’s graduation.   

In 1956-58, both Ginsburgs attended Harvard Law School.  Ruth was one of only 9 women in a first year class of 500 students.  At a dinner hosted by the dean in honour of the women students, she was aghast when he asked each woman to explain why she was attending law school and occupying a student slot that could have been filled by a man!   The incident only made her more determined to excel in law school, earning her the nickname ‘Ruthless Ruth’.  

During her second year at Harvard, Martin was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. While he underwent extensive surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, Ruth attended her husband’s classes, took notes for him, typed his papers and also cared for their preschool daughter.  She did all these things, continued to excel in her own law studies and worked on the Harvard Law Review.

Her success as a star pupil in law school did not help her find a job in the law profession.  Not a single firm in the entire city of New York offered her a position.

‘In the fifties,’ Ginsburg said, ‘traditional law firms were just beginning to turn around on hiring Jews.  But to be a woman, a Jew and a mother to boot, that combination was too much.’

    Photo from the Collection of the U.S. Supreme Court  

    Photo from the Collection of the U.S. Supreme Court  

While she hadn’t entered the law profession to be an advocate for women’s rights, her personal encounters with the obstacles faced by women trying to combine career and family lead her to take an interest in cases dealing with sex discrimination. In 1972, Ruth Bader Ginsburg became a founder and director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, through which she worked to demonstrate that sex-based classifications within the law discriminated between men and women in an unconstitutional manner.  She won 5 out of 6 women’s rights cases that she argued before the Supreme Court in the 1970’s.  The effect of these decisions was to change laws to reduce gender discrimination in hiring and preventing job termination because of pregnancy.  

Judge Bader Ginsburg is the oldest member of the nine-justice court.  Last year she underwent a heart procedure and had suffered several bouts with cancer in 1999 and 2009. 

She has no intentions of stepping down as long as she feels she is doing her job well.  

‘I am fantastically lucky that I am in a system without a compulsory retirement age.  As long as I can do the job full steam, I will stay.  I think I will know when I’m no longer able to think lucidly, to remember as well, to write as fast.’

She works out twice a week with her trainer.

‘I do a variety of weight-lifting, elliptical glider, stretching exercises, push-ups and the Canadian Air Force exercises almost every day.  I don’t do Jazzercise anymore.  It was an aerobics routine accompanied by loud sounding awful music.’

Judge Bader Ginsburg is often asked when she thinks there will be enough women on the Supreme Court.

‘When there are nine,’ is her answer.