A notorious advocate for gender equality

Jeffrey Rosen, the president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, is a professor of law at George Washington University. His new book, "Conversations with RBG," will be published next year.

Prior to her appointment to the Supreme Court 25 years ago, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the head of the ACLU project for women's rights and she pleaded important issues about gender equality. (Photo by Nikki Kahn / The Washington Post)

Why did Ruth Bader Ginsburg, at the age of 85, become an American icon where young women stop for selfies on the streets? The simple answer: she is so – boss. Young women see in her an energy model, an iron determination against injustice, self-control and humor that has inspired a law student at the University of New York to create the meme. "the infamous RBG. "Fewer men and women celebrate her as the Thurgood Marshall of the women's movement, the lawyer who did more than anybody else to promote the cause of gender equality as a groundbreaking advocate for the ACLU in the 1970s and in the course of her career. conservatives and liberals have praised her as judge of a judge whose personal and legal restraint, tireless preparation and control of facts and precedents have led her to promote the cause of equal justice by the law by what she calls "measured movements" in place of sweeping exercises of judicial power.

For all these reasons, the 25th anniversary of Ginsburg's appointment to the Supreme Court inspired several books and films, from a recent documentary to a biopic with Felicity Jones. (I have known RBG for almost 30 years, from the moment we had a relationship with the opera when I was a legal assistant at the American Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia Circuit and with her permission I collect my conversations with her in a book that will appear next autumn.) Despite this accumulation of obeisances, the Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life & # 39; Jane Sherron De Hart's first complete biography of the dish.

De Hart started the book as an exploration of Ginsburg's late-1960s dispute strategy, which sought to ensure equality between men and women through the ratification of the equal rights process and the Supreme Court. Based on this, RBG granted De Hart access to its process archives, as well as six interviews between 2000 and 2005. De Hart then decided to extend the book to a full biography, despite the fact that the official biographers of Ginsburg, Mary Hartnett and Wendy W Williams, are still at work. RBG therefore opposed to sharing extensive considerations about her life with De Hart, and the book does not contain any frank thoughts about the future of the Supreme Court and the Constitution. Nevertheless, De Hart has written an excellent biography based on archives and interviews with colleagues and friends: in his wide range, range and attention to detail, this is a lively record of a remarkable life.

De Hart's biography makes it clear that Ginsburg's academic excellence, unwavering focus and unmatched self-discipline were cultivated at a young age. Her main influence was her mother, Celia, a passionate reader who came from Poland to the Lower East Side of New York and once, while walking headlong into a book, she actually fell and broke her nose. Celia, who is Ginsburg & # 39; strictly and lovingly & # 39; said, decided that her daughter & # 39; liked to learn, to give people and had to work hard & # 39; to achieve her goals. Ginsburg has exceeded her high expectations throughout her life. Celia has also taught her daughter to control non-productive emotions, such as anger, through ruthless self-control: "Be a lady," she said regularly. Her mother died days before the graduation of the young Ruth in high school; Ginsburg later remembered her as "the strongest and bravest person I have ever known."

Ruth Bader excelled at Cornell, where she studied with Vladimir Nabokov, who taught her how important it is to choose words with precision, and the great bourgeois libertarians Robert Cushman and Milton Konvitz, who fanned her passion for constitutional law. Classmates appealed to her as "scary smart" with "a natural ability to be logical and well-founded, and not to let emotions get in the way." She graduated second in her Cornell class, with the highest honor.

At Cornell she met Marty Ginsburg and concluded: "He was the only boy I had ever dated who cared about whether I had a brain." Their lofty marriage of equals began with a two-year stint at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where they shared responsibility for childcare and reading for each other from Tolstoy and Spinoza. Then they went together to the Harvard Law School, where the dean asked each of the nine women in the class for a welcome party why she took a place that had gone to a man. Ginsburg revised the law and ended her first year near the top of the class. She found the emphasis on the legal process at Harvard "enchanting" in her focus on practical facts and fair procedures rather than an overwhelming ideology. When Marty got a job in New York, Ginsburg went to the Columbia Law School, where her reputation as & # 39; the smartest person on the East Coast & # 39; her had gone before, and she tied the first place in the graduation class. Despite her dazzling success, she did not receive any offers from law firms because, as she later said: "a woman, a Jew, and a mother to start up & # 39; in 1959 & # 39; a bit much & # 39; used to be.

Instead she went looking for a federal judge (but not learned hand or judge Felix Frankfurter, who refused to accept women) and then, as head of the project for women's rights of the ACLU, became the most influential trial party for gender equality. our time . De Hart's chapters on the important issues that Ginsburg posed, which formed the original core of her book project, are detailed and accessible. It is especially useful to read about the feminist passion that gripped Ginsburg after she & # 39; The Second Sex & # 39; Simone de Beauvoir read while she was preparing to teach about women and the law in the early 1970s: "She had kind of set fire to & # 39 ;," reminded a colleague. It is known that Ginsburg appealed to sexist male judges by representing male prosecutors who were disadvantaged by laws that seemingly favor women while actually preserving gender stereotypes.

De Hart reminds us of the scope of the feminist vision of Ginsburg, who not only wanted to change the law, but also institutions and practices that limited the ability of women to determine their own ways. In order to change the law, Ginsburg realized, she would have to change public opinion, because the courts would take into account the actions of the Congress and the executive. And even at the end of its series of victories of the Supreme Court, Ginsburg regretted that the failure of the equal rights amendment meant that the court would not be willing to eradicate unconscious prejudice of the sex, with the emphasis only being on deliberate discrimination. .

In telling the story about the appointment of Ginsburg in the Supreme Court, De Hart reminds us that prominent feminist groups were ambivalent about her candidacy, or even opposed, because of her criticism of Roe v. Wade. Ginsburg had criticized (ahead) roe because too wide was decided, in ways that caused unnecessary repercussions, and to focus on the amorphous right to privacy rather than equal protection – the ways in which abortion restrictions on sex based on women's opportunities instead of limit men. But once nominated, Ginsburg was praised as a unifying and collegial center by both conservatives and liberals and was confirmed by an almost unanimous margin that now seems inconceivable.

How did the unifying centrist apotheosis in the notorious RBG, a respected icon of fiery disagreements? De Hart traces the transformation to 2006, when Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day succeeded Connor and created a solid conservative majority. Ginsburg's dissenting opinion on Alito's decision in the Lilly Ledbetter case on workplace discrimination has encouraged the Congress to destroy it. She wore her "black and grim" deviant collar, "Ginsburg read her dissidents off the bench only 6 times during her first decade on the bench and 13 times between 2006 and 2015.

Ginsburg's position as leader of the liberal wing of the court was formalized in 2010 with the farewell to justice John Paul Stevens. She convinced the other liberal judges – Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan – that their dissidents would have more power if they spoke together instead of separately. That is why the leading dissenting opinions of the Roberts court office after 2010 were written by Ginsburg – including her dissatisfaction in 2013 in the Shelby County case of a voting right, resulting in the Notorious RBG meme.

Today, at 85, Ginsburg retains her astonishing work ethic, self-discipline and passionate dedication to equality, with a serene sense of the limits of the judiciary and the need to inspire young people to achieve social change. Still a night owl, she continues to leave messages for her clerks at 3 o'clock in the morning and to make quicker opinions than her colleagues & # 39; s. Her astonishing memory of facts and attention to detail is combined with the wisdom of a life spent on confronting inequality and overcoming step by step in measured movements. The ovations she receives in opera and pop culture on the internet have her clear view of her ultimate goal, which is a constitution that encompasses more and more people in what she calls "equal state of citizenship".

"The standing ovations, the beautiful hand-drawn lace collar that was given to her by a student, the infamous RBG Tumblr, the T-shirts and coffee mugs with her likeness, the children's books, the RBG documentary, the coming film with in the main roles Felicity Jones and Arnie Hammer as a young Ruth and Marty with the justice that provides a cameo appearance, even the parody on Saturday Night Live – everything indicates that Ginsburg has indeed left its mark on not just jurisprudence printed from the United States, but also on American society and popular culture in a broader sense, "De Hart concludes.

After having transformed himself from a judicial priest to a judicial prophet, the position of Ginsburg will remain in American history.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

A life

By Jane Sherron De Hart

Knopf. 723 pp. $ 35