Ruth Bader Ginsburg Joins U.S. Supreme Court

Today in Jewish History: August 10, 1993

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Reprinted with permission from This Week in History, a project of the Jewish Women’s Archive.

On June 14, 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg to be an associate justice on the United States Supreme Court. When she was sworn in, on August 10, 1993, she became the second woman, and the first Jewish woman, to serve on the Supreme Court. Ginsburg replaced retiring justice Byron R. White.

Born in Brooklyn on March 15, 1933, Ginsburg was the first in her immediate family to attend college. She earned her B.A. from Cornell, with High Honors in Government, in 1954. Admitted to Harvard Law School, she delayed her studies to move with her husband to Oklahoma, where she worked for the Social Security Administration. Returning east, Ginsburg enrolled at Harvard in 1956, but switched to Columbia Law School for her final year when her husband accepted a job offer from a prestigious New York law firm. At both Harvard and Columbia, Ginsburg was accepted to the Law Review; at Columbia, she tied for first in her class.

Despite this record of achievement, Ginsburg found it difficult to work as a lawyer upon graduation. Few judges and no law firms were willing to accept a woman as clerk or staff member. Finally, she won a clerkship with Judge Edmund L. Palmieri of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Palmieri accepted her only on the promise from a male lawyer that if Ginsburg did not work out, he would find an overqualified man to take her place. That proved unnecessary. After her clerkship, Ginsburg worked for the Columbia Project on International Civil Procedure, which did basic research on foreign systems of civil procedure and recommended changes in the U.S. system of transnational litigation.

With the completion of the Columbia Project, Ginsburg embarked on an academic career, first at Rutgers University (1963-1972) (where she was paid less than her male colleagues), and then at Columbia (1972-1980), where she was the first tenured woman on the law faculty. Just before her move to Columbia, Ginsburg also became co-director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.

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