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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
The 25th Tucker lecturer is an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, and is the author of the majority opinion in the Court's groundbreaking decision ordering the Virginia Military Academy to admit women. She is also an accomplished legal scholar, and has been a history-making advocate.
Justice Ginsburg was born Ruth Bader on March 15, 1933 in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Cornell University in 1954, with honors in government and distinction in all subjects. In the same year she married Martin Ginsburg, then a student at Harvard Law School, with whom she would ultimately have two children. She began her legal studies at Harvard in 1959, and later transferred to Columbia Law School when a career opportunity for her husband brought the couple to New York City. She received J.D. and LL.B. from Columbia in 1959, enjoying the unusual double distinction of having served on both the Harvard and Columbia Law Reviews. In 1963, she turned to teaching, serving as a professor first at Rutgers University School of Law (1963-1972), and then at the Columbia Law School (1972-1980). She published numerous articles on constitutional law and other subjects, and two books, a treatise, Civil Procedure in Sweden (1965), and a casebook, Text, Cases and Materials on Sex-Based Discrimination (1974).
It was as an advocate before the Court which she would ultimately join, however, that then Professor Ginsburg left her most lasting mark on the law prior to her appointment to the Supreme Court. She founded the Women's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1972, and became its first counsel. She played a pivotal part in the work of the project until her appointment to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1980. During that brief period of eight years, Professor Ginsburg argued the merits of six cases before the Supreme Court and prepared briefs for three others as counsel. She won most of those cases. Those decisions brought a sea-change in judicial attitudes toward the availability of judicial relief for gender-based discrimination.
Justice Ginsburg has served ably on the United States Supreme Court, as she did on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In her two terms as a Supreme Court Justice, she has written 27 majority opinions of the Court, dealing with every kind of question from whether chicken-catchers for a meat processing plant qualify as exempt "agricultural workers" within the intendment of the National Labor Relations Act (The Court held that they do not. Holly Farms Corp. V. NLRB, 64 U.S.L.W. 4269), to whether federal judges have the authority to reduce large jury awards made in cases decided in federal court under state law (The court held that they do. Casperini v. Center for Humanities, Inc., Sup. Ct. No. 95-719). Her efforts culminated this year in her decision in United States v. Virginia, holding that VMI's admission policy violated the Equal Protection Clause of the federal Constitution.
In 1986, Justice Ginsburg championed political independence among the federal judiciary in the following words: "Its greatest figures - Learned Hand perhaps is the best example in this century - have not been born once or reborn later liberals or conservatives. They have been independently-thinking individuals with open, but not drafty, minds, individuals willing to listen and, throughout their days, to learn. They have been notably skeptical of all party lines: above all, they have exhibited a readiness to reexamine their own premises, liberal or conservative, as thoroughly as those of others. They set a model I strive to follow." Interpretations of the Equal Protection Clause, 9 Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy 41 (1986).