Ruth Bader Ginsburg died at 87 after serving as a Supreme Court Justice for 27 years. Here's a look at the trailblazer's life and career.

The Notorious RBG.Allison Shelley/Getty Images
  • Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18, 2020, due to complications from cancer.

  • She was a left-leaning Associate Justice on the Supreme Court for nearly three decades and a pop culture icon.

  • Here's how she became one of the most important legal influences of her time.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18, 2020, due to complications from cancer. She was 87.

The Supreme Court confirmed her death in a statement at the time, in which Chief Justice John Roberts described Ginsburg as a "jurist of historic nature" and he and his colleagues at the Supreme Court "have lost a cherished colleague."

"Today we mourn, but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her — a tireless and resolute champion of justice," Roberts continued.

She spent decades as a trailblazer in gender equality law before she became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court — and a pop culture icon.

She was on the nation's highest court for nearly 30 years, ever since she took her oath on August 10, 1993.

Here's how the daughter of an immigrant in the fur business became one of the most important legal influences of her time.

Joan Ruth Bader was born in 1933 in Brooklyn.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

She became known by her middle name because there were too many "Joans" in her elementary school.

Source: Achievement, "My Own Words"

Ruth's father, who was born in Russia and never attended high school, worked in fur.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in 1977Lynn Gilbert/Wikimedia Commons

Her mother, Celia, was highly intellectual but wasn't able to attend college or pursue her own career.

Source: Achievement

Celia took Ruth to the library every week and encouraged a love of education in her daughter.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

But, after struggling with cancer for years, Celia died before Ruth graduated from high school.

Source: Achievement

She attended Cornell University and graduated in 1954 at the top of her class.

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Lewis Liu/Shutterstock

Source: Oyez

A month later, she married her classmate Martin Ginsburg, whom she had met on a blind date her freshman year.

Martin Ginsburg in 1993.
Martin Ginsburg in 1993.Dennis Cook/AP

She put her career on hold for several years as she gave birth to her first child, Jane.

Source: Oyez

In 1956, two years after graduating college, Ginsburg enrolled at Harvard Law School, where Martin was also a student.

Steven Senne/AP

She was one of just nine women in the class of more than 500.

Source: Achievement

The law dean reportedly invited the nine female students in the class to dinner and asked, "How do you justify taking a spot from a qualified man?"

Jose Luis Magana/AP

Ginsburg said she gave "the answer he expected": "My husband is a second-year law student, and it's important for a woman to understand her husband's work."

Source:The New York Times

Meanwhile, Ginsburg had won a seat on the Harvard Law Review.

harvard ginsburg
Steven Senne/AP

She was also caring for her young baby and for Martin after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer — even attending his classes and writing his papers.

Source: Achievement

Martin eventually recovered and joined a law firm in New York City.

Ginsburg 1996
C.J. Gunther/AP

Ginsburg transferred to Columbia Law School, earning a seat on their law review and graduating tied for first in the class in 1959.

Source: Achievement

Despite that stellar academic record, Ginsburg had issues finding a job.

Stephan Savoia/AP

Many law firms had signs for applicants that read, "Men Only." Her Jewish background also didn't help.

Source:The New York Times

So, Ginsburg didn't go through law firms.

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

She accepted a courtship with the US District Court for the Southern District of New York and, after two years, began working at Columbia Law's Project on International Procedure.

Source: Achievement

Ginsburg quickly became an associate director of the Project on International Procedure.

Mary Altaffer/AP

One of her early projects was studying the Swedish legal system; she also taught herself Swedish.

Source: Achievement

Ginsburg later said the private sector's rejection was ultimately beneficial.

The Notorious RBG.Allison Shelley/Getty Images

Otherwise, she wouldn't have gotten these unique opportunities in academia and the government.

Source:The New York Times

She became a law professor at Rutgers University in 1963, where she continued to study Swedish law.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Through her studies of Sweden, she became more interested in gender equality issues.

Source: Achievement

Ginsburg founded The Women's Rights Law Reporter, the first American law journal on gender equality issues, in 1970.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

She then wrote the first textbook on sex discrimination law in 1974.

Source: Achievement

At that time, gender issues were seen as unimportant, and studying them could hamper a woman's career.

Paul Morigi/Getty Images for ELLE

"The concern was that if a woman was doing gender equality, her chances of making it to tenure in the law school were diminished," Ginsburg told The New York Times in 2015. "It was considered frivolous."

Source: The New York Times

But the focus certainly didn't hamper her career. Ginsburg joined the faculty at Columbia University Law School in 1972.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Getty Images

Source: Achievement

And, through her know-how in gender equality law, she founded the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project and began arguing cases on discrimination before the US Supreme Court.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Source: AchievementOyez

One landmark case Ginsburg argued before the Supreme Court involved a county in Missouri that allowed women to opt out of jury duty on request.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

That meant women comprised less than 15% of jurors in that county. Ginsburg argued that this violated the Sixth Amendment, and also implied that this meant that women jurors were less valuable than male opinions. Her arguments led to a vote in her favor by 8-1.

Source: Justia

In 1980, Ginsburg was appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where she served for 13 years.

Ginsburg 1993
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Her husband, Martin, followed her to DC, becoming a professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

Source: Achievement

In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Ginsburg as an associate justice on the Supreme Court.

Ginsburg in 1993.
Dennis Cook/AP

She was the second woman to serve and the first Jewish woman.

Source: Achievement

Ginsburg was originally selected for being a moderate and a consensus builder, but she's now one of the most left-leaning justices on the court.

Ginsburg 2007
Steven Senne/AP

Source:FiveThirtyEight, LA Times

Some of Ginsburg's landmark opinions as a justice included her opinion written on the insider trading case of United States v. O'Hagan and male-only admissions at the Virginia Military Institute.

Ginsburg 2009
Elise Amendola/AP

Source: Justia, Justia

Ginsburg's two children grew and found their own paths in adulthood.

ginsburg and family 1993
Doug Mills/AP

Her older child, Jane, is a law professor at Columbia and her younger one, James, owns a record label in Chicago.

Source: Achievement

Her husband, who Ginsburg called her "biggest booster" and "an extraordinary man," died in 2010.

ginsburg and husband
Ed Bailey/AP

Source: The New York Times

By 2014, at which point she was in her early 80s, Ginsburg had become a pop culture icon — taking on the nickname Notorious R.B.G.

rbg child
A young child dressed up as R.B.G.Jacquelyn Martin/AP

"People really find her politics powerful," Shana Knizhnik, the creator of the Notorious RGB blog, said.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC in March.Allison Shelley/Getty

"She's standing up to the conservative majority, who also happen to be men," Knizhnik continued. "She is an image of feminist rebellion, while still being a demure, quiet person in real life."

Source: Business Insider

Ginsburg's policies aren't the only thing her devotees admire her for — they even try to follow her workouts, which are one hour long and involve push-ups, planks, and squats.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Elana Lyn Gross

Source: Business Insider

When Ginsburg had colon cancer in 1999 and pancreatic cancer in 2009, she still barely missed any days on the bench.

2013 ginsburg
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Source: Achievement

At 85, people are predicted when Ginsburg would retire.


But she indicated at the time that she had no plans to leave her post: "As long as I can do the job full steam, I will be here."

Source: Washington Examiner

Ginsburg died on September 18, 2020, due to complications from metastatic pancreas cancer. She was 87.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in October 2019.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in October 2019.Erin Clark for The Boston Globe via Getty

Ginsburg had several types of cancer over the last 20 years. She had been hospitalized several times in 2020 and was undergoing treatment for metastatic pancreas cancer.

She was public about her medical condition, though Supreme Court justices are not required to share details about their health.

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