By Jennifer Earl
Published January 07, 2019
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has fought to overcome many obstacles — for herself and others — throughout her lifetime. And she's proven time and time again she's not afraid to let her voice be heard, though not everyone may always agree with her point of view.
As a young law student, Ginsburg vowed to become a voice for women. After earning her law degree and launching her teaching career, the New Yorker became the director of the Women's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. During her time as director in the 1970s, she argued for six "landmark cases" regarding equal rights for women before the Supreme Court and won five, according to her biography.
That was just the beginning in what would later grow into a long career on the bench of the nation's highest court.
Here are just a few highlights of Ginsburg's long life and career.
Ginsburg leads the court's liberal wing.
Ginsburg was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Washington, D.C. in 1980 by then-President Jimmy Carter. More than a decade later, in 1993, President Bill Clinton advocated for her to fill an empty seat on the bench.
Since then, Ginsburg rebuffed suggestions from some liberals that she should step down in the first two years of President Barack Obama's second term, when Democrats also controlled the Senate and would have been likely to confirm her successor.
In July 2018, at age 85, she said retirement plans were still far off.
"My senior colleague, Justice John Paul Stevens, he stepped down when he was 90, so think I have about at least five more years," Ginsburg told CNN at the time.
Ginsburg has three words for the women who shared their stories of abuse to spark the #MeToo movement: “It’s about time.”
Before Ginsburg slipped on her iconic judicial robe, the feminist from Brooklyn confessed she had her own brush with sexual harassment and gender inequality.
Ginsburg told NPR legal correspondent and longtime friend Nina Totenberg at a Sundance Film Festival event in January 2018 about an incident that allegedly occurred when she was a student at Cornell University in the early 1950s.
“I went to his office and I said, ‘How dare you! How dare you, you –"
She shared concerns with her chemistry instructor over her "abilities" ahead of a big test. The teacher comforted her and told her he'd give her a practice exam to make her more comfortable with the material.
“The next day – on the test – the test is the practice exam. And I knew exactly what he wanted in return,” Ginsburg said. “That’s just one of many examples.”
Ginsburg didn’t just ignore the professor’s inappropriate gesture, she said. After the exam, Ginsburg walked straight up to the instructor and allegedly confronted him.
“I went to his office and I said, ‘How dare you! How dare you, you –“ Ginsburg said. “And that was the end of that.”
When Ginsburg began teaching at Rutgers Law School in 1964 she said that she quickly realized she was being treated differently than her male colleagues.
Since Rutgers was a state school, Ginsburg knew she'd be taking a pay cut — but when the dean told her how much of a cut, she was astonished. She asked how much a male colleague who had been out of law school about the same amount of time of her was being paid.
"Ruth, he has a wife and two children to support. You have a husband with a good paying job in New York," the dean responded.
"That was the very year the Equal Pay Act had passed," Ginsburg said. "That was the answer that I got."
In response to the dean's remarks, a group of women employed at Rutgers worked together to file an Equal Pay Act complaint, which the university later settled.
Ginsburg recalled another example of gender inequality in 1972 when she was a professor at Columbia University. A feminist told her the school issued lay-off notices to 25 women in the maintenance department, but not a single man received a notice.
Ginsburg told the university’s vice president for business’ office the school was violating Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits workplace discrimination based on religion, national origin, race, color or sex.
Columbia eventually found a way to avoid laying off anyone, Ginsburg said.
Ginsburg has overcome a series of health problems. In November 2018, she was hospitalized for fracturing three ribs on her left side after falling in her office. Similarly, she broke two ribs in a fall in 2012. She's also had two prior bouts with cancer and had a stent implanted to open a blocked artery in 2014. In 2009, she was hospitalized after a bad reaction to medicine.
In December 2018, Ginsburg underwent lung surgery at New York City's Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to remove cancerous growths. Doctors discovered nodules in the lower lobe of her left lung after her injury due to a fall a month prior.
As Ginsburg recovers from the surgery, the Justice had to miss oral arguments on Jan. 7, 2019, for the first time since she joined the court in 1993.
A Supreme Court spokesperson told Fox News that Ginsburg would participate in the consideration of the cases through written briefs and transcripts, but there has yet to be a date decided for when she will return to the bench.