Today, March 15, is Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s birthday! Affectionately known as the ‘Notorious RBG’ by her fans, this certified badass has been serving up justice for women and other marginalized groups much of her career.
To celebrate one of our favorite gender equality trailblazers, here are our top 9 favorite RBG moments:
“When there are nine.”
We’re kicking off this listicle of nine badass moments in honor of one of our favorite quotes from Justice Ginsburg:
“When I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court] and I say, ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”
Another reason for nine: Ginsburg was also one of nine women in a class of 500 when she attended Harvard Law School in 1956. Her feminist instincts were honed by the treatment that Ginsburg and her female classmates received while in law school.
American Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights Project
Throughout Ginsburg’s early career, her status as a woman put her at a disadvantage for employment, despite the fact that she tied for first in her class when she graduated from Columbia in 1959. Her experiences prompted Ginsburg to start handling sex discrimination complaints referred to her by the New Jersey affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Ginsburg envisioned that men and women would “create new traditions by their actions, if artificial barriers are removed, and avenues of opportunity held open to them.” So in 1972, Ginsburg co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights Project to help remove barriers and open opportunities for gender equality. How badass is that?
Obergefell v. Hodges
Can you believe that it’s only been 3 years since this landmark case granted same-sex couples the right to marry in all 50 states? We can all thank Ginsburg for that. It is thought that her outspokenness during a hearing on the constitutionality of gay marriage affected public opinion.
“Marriage today is not what it was under the common law tradition, under the civil law tradition,” argued Ginsburg when Justices Roberts and Kennedy started to question whether the court had a right to challenge centuries of tradition.
“Marriage was a relationship of a dominant male to a subordinate female,” she explained. “That ended as a result of this court’s decision in 1982 when Louisiana’s Head and Master Rule was struck down… Would that be a choice that state should [still] be allowed to have? To cling to marriage the way it once was?”
In the end, by rejecting the idea that extending marriage rights would diminish the institution and schooling those that did not agree, Ginsburg helped persuade the court to rule 5-4 in favor of same-sex marriage. Hooray!
Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt
2016 marked the year that the Supreme Court ruled on the biggest abortion case since Roe vs. Wade. In 2013, Texas lawmakers passed the Texas Omnibus Abortion Bill (better known as HB 2), which imposed strict restrictions and requirements on abortion providers, including a mandate that doctors performing procedures have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and that clinics meet the same standards as outpatient surgical centers. The Center for Reproductive Rights, a nonprofit that protects the reproductive freedoms of women, filed a lawsuit in 2014 on behalf of gynecology and abortion care clinic Whole Woman’s Health and other providers in the state.
The justices struck down the restrictive bill in a 5–3 vote. Unsurprisingly, Ginsburg was one of the five, and though she didn’t write the official majority opinion (that was done by Justice Stephen G. Breyer), she went the extra mile by sharing her thoughts in a concurring opinion. In it, she made it clear that the court wouldn’t take kindly to further attacks on abortion providers.
“It is beyond rational belief that HB 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions,” she wrote. “When a State severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners…at great risk to their health and safety. So long as this Court adheres to Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers laws like HB 2 that do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion, cannot survive judicial inspection.”
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby
In this 2014 case, The Green Family, which owns and operates over 500 Hobby Lobby stores, challenged the contraception requirement under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. They argued that the requirement violated their First Amendment rights and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. The court sided with the Green Family in a 5-4 vote, but Ginsburg did not agree with the decision and wrote a fervent dissent that listed out the consequences that would be the outcome.
In the dissent, she stated that “The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage” and “It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.” Thanks, Justice Ginsburg!
Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company
This 2007 case ended with one of Ginsburg’s famous dissents while dealing with gender pay discrimination and statute limitations. An employee of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, Lilly Ledbetter, sued the company after she realized that she was making thousands less than her male co-workers. Ledbetter argued the pay disparity was a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but Goodyear appealed on the grounds that the same clause required discrimination complaints to be filed within 180 days of the violation (AKA the decision to pay her less money than the men) — so Ledbetter could only legally call into question the 180 days of unequal pay leading up to her official complaint, rather than the entirety of her nearly two-decade tenure with the company.
Unfortunately, the court sided with Goodyear with a vote of 5-4. In her dissent, Ginsburg wrote, “A worker knows immediately if she is denied a promotion or transfer. Compensation disparities, in contrast, are often hidden from sight.” By standing up for women who make less than their male counterparts, Ginsburg helped set the groundwork for future arguments against pay discrimination.
United States v. Virginia
Back in 1996, the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) was the country’s last remaining all-male public undergraduate college or university. But thanks in part to Ginsburg, that would not be the case for long. The United States filed a suit against the school, arguing that the gender-exclusive admissions policy violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.
After the Institute argued that women weren’t physically suited for VMI’s tough training, RBG made it clear that she wouldn’t tolerate blatant sexism, arguing that the policy violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. “Neither the goal of producing citizen soldiers nor VMI’s implementing methodology is inherently unsuitable to women,” she wrote, adding, “generalizations about ‘the way women are,’ estimates of what is appropriate for most women, no longer justify denying opportunity to women whose talent and capacity place them outside the average description.”
Iconic Fitness Regimen
We all are aware that Ginsburg is amazing on the bench, but her gym routine with Byant Johnson, personal trainer to the Supreme Court Justices, is the stuff that legends are made of.
Back in 2017, a reporter named Ben Schreckinger decided to go through the exact same workout that she does. The regimen, as documented in Politico, proved difficult for the “young and reasonably fit” journalist to keep up with. “I thought the workout would be pattycake, but it was much harder than I expected,” Ben wrote. “Ginsburg’s personal trainer, it turns out, is no joke.” Overall, Ginsburg’s hour-long workout took the reporter 90 minutes to finish.
Time for Some Cake!
Finally, to round out this amazing list, let’s have some cake. In 2018, Sophia Spataro cemented her status as a RBG superfan by requesting a cake decorated with her hero for her 8th birthday.
On October 2, Sophia clutched her RBG action figure while her family gathered around to watch her blow out the candles. She admires the supreme court justice so much that she wanted to thank her and sent her a picture of the cake.
“I asked for a picture of you on my birthday cake because you help make people be treated equally and you made it so girls can have important jobs. Thank you for making America better.”
We wholeheartedly agree! Thank you, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for lending your voice to countless critical cases like a boss. Happy birthday to you, and many more!