After a hard-fought battle with metastatic pancreatic cancer, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on September 18th. Americans everywhere grew to love the iconic justice not only for her legal finesse and landmark women’s rights rulings, but also for her infectious charm off the bench.
And aspiring attorneys and justices everywhere will forever view Ginsburg as the type of legal mastermind they aspire to be — intelligent, personable, and unconventionally vulnerable in a prestigious position that demands the highest degree of personal and professional discretion.
I was one of the many who viewed Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the pinnacle of knowledge and justice combined — the personification of everything I aspired to become as a future attorney. Surrounded by a sea of homogeneous-appearing, white, male justices, Ginsburg constantly drew my attention, not solely because of her gender or her infamous “dissent collar,” but also because she carried herself with such poise in a world in which she was a distinct minority.
As a disabled, female aspiring lawyer, I took both awe and solace in Ginsburg’s dedication to breaking barriers in the legal world. RBG — as she would later become known — pursued her legal education as a wife and mother, accepting a place in Harvard’s prestigious law school as one of a handful of women in her class. Though she later transferred to Columbia Law, she defied every expectation that she prioritize marriage and motherhood over her law degree, graduating first in her class. And naturally, she rose through the legal ranks, as an attorney and professor, then as a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals, then as the second-ever female Supreme Court Justice. A staunch women’s rights advocate, Ginsburg penned numerous landmark court decisions that mitigated gender discrimination and allowed women greater access to reproductive care, refusing to allow anyone to diminish her capabilities. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s resolve to lead with intelligence and discard every backwards expectation she faced gave me hope that I can someday do the same, no matter how many obstacles stand in my way.
But what really drew me (and the entire country) to Ginsburg wasn’t her sheer defiance of societal expectations, it was her effortless ability to highlight her intelligence while still maintaining her humanity. The Supreme Court demands impartiality, professionalism, and a ruthlessly analytical mind — all of which Ruth Bader Ginsburg had in spades — but provides little space for vulnerability. But Ginsburg, not one to bow to convention, became the justice of the people simply by allowing America to see the rawest parts of her life. She allowed cameras into her home for multiple documentaries, crushed her workout regimen (which included a variety of high-intensity exercises) well into her 80s, and imbued interviews with humorous quips at her husband. It was this unheard-of personability as a Justice that established Ginsburg as the “Notorious RBG,” a slangy title she wholeheartedly embraced.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg lived with a magnetism that endeared her to America, allowing people from all backgrounds to buck stereotypes and embrace vulnerability in professions where openness had historically been unwelcome. With her presence on the Court alone, she’s encouraged millions of girls and women to pursue their dreams, even when they face pigeonholing and opposition. And naturally, RBG has also inspired me to chase my legal aspirations, even in the moments when the world uses my femininity, my physicality, or my unfettered emotion to undermine my intelligence, legal knowledge, and lawyerly potential. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has made it clear that in my vulnerability, I will succeed, as will anyone else who strives to break barriers.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg radically changed America, but more importantly, she radically changed Americans. The Notorious RBG took us beyond the black robes and stiff demeanors of the Supreme Court and reminded us of the most valuable lesson — we are all beautifully human in our vulnerability, and even when we face dissent, we can achieve our dreams.