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Ruth Bader Ginsburg leaves legacy as champion of women's equality

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87 03:27

When Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday, she left behind not just decades of laws that empower women, but also a historical role model of what women can become.

Ginsburg, born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 15, 1933, was only the second woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, after Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. 

She was a champion for women's rights long before she ever reached the highest court in the land. 

In 1971, she was pivotal in launching the Women's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union and advocated for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, though efforts to ratify it ultimately were unsuccessful.

Before she became a judge, she argued six sex-discrimination cases before the Supreme Court, winning five. 

Once she reached the court, Ginsburg continued to fight for equal protection under the law.

In the 1996 case United States v. Virginia, Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion striking down Virginia Military Institute's male-only admission policy.

"Women seeking and fit for a VMI quality education cannot be offered anything less, under the State's obligation to afford them genuinely equal protection," she wrote. 

In 2007, she authored — and read from the bench — a dissent in the case Ledbetter v. Good Year Tires, an employment discrimination case brought by Lilly Ledbetter, who sued for equal pay. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against Ledbetter and limited workers' ability to sue their employers.

"Our precedent suggests, and lower courts have overwhelmingly held, that the unlawful practice is the current payment of salaries infected by gender-based (or race-based) discrimination —  a practice that occurs whenever a paycheck delivers less to a woman than to a similarly situated man," Ginsburg wrote.

Two years after the Supreme Court's ruling in the case, President Obama signed the "Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act," the first legislation of his presidency, which effectively overturned the court's ruling.

Ginsburg became a pop culture icon in recent years, with her fiery dissents laying the groundwork for the moniker "Notorious RBG," a nod to the rapper "Notorious BIG," who, like Ginsburg, was born in Brooklyn.

Mugs, t-shirts and tote bags bearing her likeness and the phrase "I dissent" helped catapult Ginsburg to rock-star status, and she was the subject of the documentary "RBG" and the feature film "On the Basis of Sex." The justice also earned praise for her workout regime, which she continued even after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered the doors of the Supreme Court and gyms across the District of Columbia.

While Ginsburg served as the liberal anchor of the high court, she developed a close friendship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the Supreme Court's most conservative justices. In today's most partisan times, their unlikely friendship showed that deep differences of opinion shouldn't keep people apart.

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