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How Ruth Bader Ginsburg Became RBG

During his eight years in the White House, President Bill Clinton appointed more Jews to high-level administration positions than had any other president. Of special historic significance, Clinton was the first president to appoint two Jews to the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. The first court vacancy came within six weeks after Clinton’s inauguration, on March 3, 1993, with the surprise retirement of Justice Byron White, who had served for thirty-one years. White’s resignation made Clinton the first Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court.

In filling Byron White’s seat, Clinton had announced he was seeking a nominee with “a fine mind, good judgment, and wide experience in the law and in the problems of real people, and somebody with a big heart.” Ginsburg seemed to perfectly fit the bill: she was the first woman to receive tenure at Columbia Law School, and she had enjoyed a distinguished thirteen-year judicial career on the prestigious U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. During his ninety-minute meeting with Ginsburg, the president reportedly “fell in love” with her life story and “big heart,” while empathizing with her long personal and professional struggles against gender discrimination. In announcing her appointment, Clinton praised her historic achievements on behalf of legal rights for women, noting that she had won several landmark sex discrimination cases before the Supreme Court during the 1970s. He called Ginsburg “the Thurgood Marshall of gender equality law,” who was “to the women’s movement what Thurgood Marshall was to the rights of African Americans.” Clinton also praised her demonstrated ability, while a federal judge, to serve as a consensus builder, a healer, and a “moderate liberal.”

Ginsburg’s nomination was widely applauded throughout the legal community and by senators from both parties. Given her unquestionable qualifications and bipartisan support, Ginsburg’s Senate confirmation hearings, from July 20 to 23, 1993, were uncontroversial. The Judiciary Committee, which now included two women, Dianne Feinstein of California and Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois, quickly approved the nomination by a unanimous 18–0 vote. Soon thereafter, the full Senate confirmed her nomination by a vote of 97–3, and on August 10, 1993, she took the oath of office as the 107th justice, the second woman, and the first Jewish Supreme Court justice in twenty-four years.

The Rise of Ruth Bader

Born on March 15, 1933, Ruth Bader grew up in a working-class part of Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood. Like the parents of Justices Frankfurter, Goldberg, and Fortas, her parents were impoverished immigrants, her mother, Celia, from Austria and her father, Nathan, from Russia. When she was only two, Ruth’s older sister, Marilyn, died of meningitis. Perhaps because of this early tragedy, Ruth, now an only child, became very close to her parents, especially her mother. While her father was busy eking out a meager living as a furrier and later as a haberdasher, her mother, while working in a garment factory, took charge of Ruth’s intellectual development. Encouraging Ruth to read, she frequently took her daughter to the local public library. Because the library was one floor above a Chinese restaurant, Ruth would later recall, “I learned to love the smell of Chinese food in those days.”

Ruth Bader was an outstanding student at James Madison High School, a public school whose other distinguished alumni have included U.S. senators Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders, and Norm Coleman, the playwright and film producer Garson Kanin, the singer-songwriter Carole King, the actor Martin Landau, four Nobel Prize laureates, and the presidential biographer Robert Dallek. Bader edited the school paper, the Highway Herald, and wrote articles about the school’s history and the U.S. judicial system. Her interest in the law was already apparent, as demonstrated in an editorial, “Landmarks of Constitutional Freedom,” in which she discussed the meaning of the Ten Commandments, England’s Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the U.N. charter. She was also an officer of the Go-Getters, a pep club for sporting and social events, played cello in the school orchestra, and twirled a baton at football games. During summers, she worked as a camp counselor in the Adirondacks. In 1948, at age fifteen, she served as the “camp rabbi,” delivering sermons to her fellow campers.

When she graduated from high school in 1950, Bader won several awards and a New York State Scholarship, which helped pay for her tuition at Cornell University. Many years later, shortly after her appointment to the Supreme Court, Madison High dedicated a mock-trial courtroom in her honor. Attending the dedication ceremony, Justice Ginsburg joked that the mock-trial courtroom was more impressive than some of the real courtrooms in which she had practiced. But Ruth’s actual high school graduation was infused with tragedy. Her mother, having suffered from cervical cancer, had died the day before. Ruth was grief-stricken on leaving home that fall to begin her Cornell undergraduate studies.

At Cornell, where she majored in government, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and was a member of the Alpha Phi Epsilon sorority, Bader was her class’s top woman graduate. During her freshman year, she met Martin Ginsburg, a sophomore, whom she married soon after her graduation in June 1954. Robert Gordis, one of the most distinguished Conservative rabbis in America, officiated at their wedding. The next July, she gave birth to her first child, Jane, who is today a professor at Columbia Law School.

When Ginsburg began her studies at Harvard Law School the following year, where Martin was a year ahead of her, she was one of only nine women in a class of five hundred. Prior to the 1950s, the contentious issue of whether to admit women to the law school had divided the faculty and administration for almost a century. Although Dean Erwin Griswold, who would later serve as President Lyndon Johnson’s solicitor general, had announced the decision to admit women in October 1949, thus opening a door previously closed to Jewish women in the legal profession, Harvard Law was not especially welcoming to Ginsburg and her fellow eight women classmates. During Griswold’s twenty-one-year tenure, which lasted until 1967, women were accepted in only token numbers. Moreover, they were not permitted to live in the law school dormitories or study in one of Lamont Library’s rooms. Also, there were no women’s bathrooms in one of the two buildings in which they attended classes. At a dinner hosted for the women students at his home, Dean Griswold, who like some other faculty colleagues during the 1950s publicly questioned whether women should have the right to enter the legal profession, asked each woman how she could justify taking places that would otherwise have gone to qualified male students. Despite such obstacles, Ginsburg excelled, making history by becoming the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.

When Martin graduated from law school in 1958, he accepted a position at a major New York City firm, where he established a reputation as one of the country’s top tax attorneys, counting the Texas billionaire oil tycoon and future third-party presidential candidate Ross Perot among his clients. Ruth followed him to New York, transferring to Columbia to complete her legal studies. There, as one of only twelve female students, she was elected to the Columbia Law Review and graduated in 1959 as one of the class’s top two students. Despite her impressive academic record and service on two prestigious law reviews, she confronted gender discrimination when applying for a Supreme Court clerkship. Ironically, the Supreme Court Justice who refused to hire her was Felix Frankfurter. Women had not yet been admitted as students during Frankfurter’s twenty-five years as a Harvard Law professor, from 1914 to 1939, and he had never taught women or employed them as research assistants. In 1959, Albert Sacks, the Harvard Law professor who selected most of Frankfurter’s law clerks, proposed hiring Ginsburg, but Frankfurter refused to even interview her. The reason, he acknowledged, was that “he was not yet prepared to hire a woman.” In 1948, Frankfurter had broken the Supreme Court color line by hiring the first African American law clerk, William T. Coleman, Jr. But eleven years later, he was still not ready to break the glass ceiling that had limited the advancement of women in the American legal profession by hiring Ginsburg as the first female law clerk.

After being rejected for the Frankfurter clerkship, Ginsburg continued struggling to secure a job. Not a single New York City firm to which she applied offered her a position. As she would later recall, “In the fifties, the traditional law firms were just beginning to turn around on hiring Jews. In the forties, it was very difficult for a Jew to be hired by one of the well-established law firms. They had just gotten over that form of discrimination. But to be a Jew, a woman and a mother to boot, that combination was a bit much.”

Aided by her former Columbia law professor Gerald Gunther, she was eventually offered a clerkship with Judge Edmund L. Palmieri, of the Federal District Court of Manhattan. Following this two-year position, Ginsburg was hired as a research associate with and then associate director of Columbia Law School’s Comparative Law Project, with the assignment of studying Sweden’s judicial system. This work, funded by the Carnegie Foundation, allowed her to learn Swedish, visit Sweden to observe the country’s courts, and coauthor, with a Swedish judge, Civil Procedure in Sweden, a major text for which she was later awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Lund. It also furthered her growing interest in pursuing a career as a law professor.17 Thus, in 1963, Ginsburg joined the faculty of Rutgers University Law School, where she would teach for the next nine years. The second woman on the school’s faculty, and one of only twenty women law professors in the country, Ginsburg rose to eventually become a full professor, and spent 1971 as a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, before accepting a position as the first tenured women professor at Columbia Law School in 1972. While still an assistant professor at Rutgers, Ginsburg became pregnant with her second child. She concealed the news by wearing loose-fitting clothes borrowed from her mother-in-law, fearing that discovery of the pregnancy by the dean or her colleagues might cost her job.

While still at Rutgers, Ginsburg also cofounded the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and began to teach courses on sex discrimination. In her eight years as a Columbia professor, Ginsburg taught courses in civil procedure, constitutional law, and sex discrimination law, and prepared the first legal casebook on gender-based discrimination. Also, throughout the 1970s, as attorney for the Women’s Rights Project, Ginsburg led a campaign to persuade the Supreme Court that gender discrimination, like race discrimination, should be prohibited by the Constitution’s equal protection clause. Inspired by the gradualist litigation strategy of Thurgood Marshall, who had famously led the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s fight to end racial discrimination, she won several historic cases in the emerging field of sex discrimination law. Most notably perhaps was her landmark victory in the Supreme Court case Reed v. Reed, for which she wrote the ACLU’s legal brief and in which the court unanimously overturned an Idaho state law that gave legal preference to men over women as administrators of estates of the deceased. Following Reed v. Reed, in which the Court for the first time struck down legislation on grounds that it constitutionally discriminated against women, Ginsburg, as attorney for the Women’s Rights Project, argued six gender-discrimination cases before the Supreme Court. In these cases, including Frontiero v. Richardson, Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, and Craig v. Boren, Ginsburg sought to achieve legal recognition of women’s rights by persuading the court’s members that any form of sex-based discrimination was unconstitutional. She won five out of these six cases.

In 1980, Ginsburg, having made her reputation as the country’s preeminent litigator for women’s legal equality and as the first tenured woman professor at Columbia Law, was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the nation’s second most powerful federal court. This appointment was path breaking, given that only eight other women were then serving on America’s federal courts. Judge Ginsburg moved to Washington, D.C., with her husband, Martin, who left his New York law practice and endowed chair at Columbia Law School to become a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center.

Although while serving on D.C. Court of Appeals Ginsburg’s judicial opinions gave consistent support to liberal issues such as gender equality and the constitutionality of affirmative action, she also developed a conservative record on criminal law issues. Moreover, to the surprise of some liberal and feminist supporters, she voiced public criticism of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision that affirmed a constitutional right to abortion, because the court did not ground its decision in the equal protection clause’s guarantee against sex discrimination. Although she privately defended a woman’s right to abortion on equality grounds, when she was nominated for the Supreme Court in 1993 some women’s groups opposed her appointment because she had earlier expressed criticism of the court’s Roe v. Wade ruling. Her views on such issues sometimes allied Ginsburg with conservative colleagues such as Judge Antonin Scalia, her friend and fellow opera lover, who also served on the D.C. court and would later serve with her on the Supreme Court.

Two of the cases on which she voted while sitting on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals—Goldman v. (Secretary of Defense) Weinberger and United States v. Pollard—were of special interest to American Jews. Very significantly, Judge Ginsburg dissented from the Circuit Court’s 1984 decision in Goldman v. Weinberger, which upheld an Air Force regulation that prohibited an Orthodox Jewish Air Force officer named Simcha Goldman from wearing a yarmulke while on duty. Goldman, an Orthodox Jew and an ordained rabbi serving as a clinical psychologist wore a yarmulke in accordance with Orthodox practice. When outdoors, he wore the regulation Air Force cap; when indoors, he wore a small cloth skullcap. In May 1981, Goldman’s superior officer notified him that wearing a yarmulke indoors while in uniform violated the Air Force dress code and ordered him to remove it or face a court-martial. Goldman’s attorneys claimed that this regulation infringed upon his First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion. Judge Ginsburg agreed, arguing in her dissent that for a military commander to prohibit the yarmulke that Goldman had worn without incident through several years of military service reflected “callous indifference to Dr. Goldman’s religious faith” and “runs counter to the best of our traditions.”

In a quite different case of concern to many American Jews, in March 1992, a three-judge Circuit Court panel upheld, by a 2–1 vote, a lower court denial of the motion of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard to withdraw his guilty plea. Two judges affirmed the life sentence for Pollard, convicted for passing classified information to Israel, rejecting his attorneys’ claim that the government had breached a plea bargain agreement that might have resulted in a lesser sentence. One of these two judges was Laurence Silberman, a conservative Republican whom Ronald Reagan had appointed to the D.C. Circuit Court; the other was Ginsburg. Many of Pollard’s supporters within the American Jewish community, including a number of liberal Democrats allied ideologically with Ginsburg, were shocked by their ruling, noting the irony that both judges who voted against Pollard were Jewish.

Ginsburg and Collegiality on the Supreme Court

During her twenty-plus years as a justice, amid the often ideologically polarized Rehnquist and Roberts courts, Ginsburg has been a consistent voice for nonpartisanship, collegiality, and civility. She has, for example, enjoyed a warm friendship with the retired justice David Souter, a bachelor, whom she and her husband, Martin, often invited to their home for gourmet dinners and to attend classical musical events. Her great capacity for friendship, however, is perhaps best exemplified by her three-decade relationship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, one of her conservative adversaries, a friendship that surprised many of Ginsburg’s liberal supporters and Scalia’s liberal critics. Ginsburg and Scalia first met in the 1970s when they were both law professors, she at Columbia and he at the University of Chicago, and she heard him speak at a legal conference. While she thoroughly disagreed with Scalia’s critique of a recent Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals ruling, she was charmed by him. “I was fascinated by him because he was so intelligent and so amusing,” Ginsburg later said. “You could still resist his position, but you just had to like him.”

Despite their ideological differences, a genuine friendship developed and was reinforced with Scalia’s appointment to the D.C. Court of Appeals two years after her 1980 appointment to the same court. Ginsburg, Scalia, and their spouses began celebrating New Year’s Eve together, a tradition that would continue even after Martin Ginsburg’s death in 2010. Their friendship has been attributed to both their shared background as law professors who respected each other’s scholarly judicial opinions and, especially, to their shared love of opera. Ginsburg and Scalia appeared together in white powdered wigs and eighteenth-century costumes as “extras” in the Washington National Opera’s 1994 production of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. To the amazement of many, the Ginsburgs and Scalias never let their political differences affect their friendship. Following Martin Ginsburg’s death, as Chief Justice Roberts gave a moving tribute to “the husband of our colleague Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” recalling “his sharp wit and engaging charm,” Scalia wept.

Justice Ginsburg and the Virginia Military Institute Case

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s most notable majority opinion came in 1996, three years after her appointment to the Supreme Court. In her opinion in United States v. Virginia, a landmark gender discrimination case, Ginsburg held that the Constitution’s equal protection clause does not permit the state of Virginia to finance a military college, the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), open only to male students. As she noted, VMI, which had been founded in 1839, was the only one of Virginia’s fifteen public colleges or universities that was not coeducational. VMI’s male-only admissions policy, she continued, was in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause. Therefore, VMI could no longer remain an all-male institution, and the state of Virginia’s refusal to admit women to the school was unconstitutional. Writing for the court’s 7–1 majority—Justice Thomas, whose son attended VMI, recused himself—Ginsburg stated that “neither federal nor state government acts compatibly with equal protection when a law or official policy denies to women, simply because they are women, full citizenship stature—equal opportunity to aspire, achieve, participate in and contribute to society based on their individual talents and capacities.” While conceding that most women, as most men, might not want to meet the rigorous demands of the VMI military-training program, Ginsburg dismissed Virginia’s argument that VMI’s program was unsuitable for women, calling it “the kind of ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ once routinely used to deny rights or opportunities” to women. “The state may not rely on overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capacities, or preferences of males and females,” Ginsburg wrote. “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.”

When the VMI case reached the Supreme Court, Ginsburg had devoted more effort to litigating the constitutional issues relating to gender discrimination than any other justice. As the cofounder of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project during the 1970s, and having litigated major sex discrimination cases before the Supreme Court, Ginsburg had sought to persuade the court “that discrimination on the basis of sex was no less a violation of equal protection than discrimination on the basis of race.” The VMI case gave Ginsburg her first opportunity to address gender discrimination as a justice. Her majority opinion in United States v. Virginia has correctly been described as a “fitting capstone to her career as an advocate for gender equality.”

The Jewishness of Justice Ginsburg

Although as a teenager Ruth Bader was the “camp rabbi” at a summer camp in the Adirondacks, and was confirmed in Brooklyn’s religiously Conservative East Midwood Jewish Center, where her parents belonged, at age seventeen, when her mother died, she turned away from Jewish religious practice. In the days after her mother’s death, she was also excluded from the minyan traditionally required for Jewish communal prayer, and could not recite the Kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayer of mourning, because she was a woman. “The house was filled with women, and only men could participate in the minyan,” she later told an interviewer. She further explained, while pointing to the mezuzah on her Supreme Court office door, that she was like other nonobservant Jews who “identify themselves proudly as Jews but don’t take part in the rituals.”

More recently, after attending a bat mitzvah at a liberal Washington, D.C., synagogue where the rabbi and cantor were both women, and where women were included in the minyan, Ginsburg said she might feel differently about Jewish religious practice if she were young now. Also, in March 2015, Ginsburg coauthored a moving feminist essay titled “The Heroic and Visionary Women of Passover,” a tribute to the five heroic women at the center of the Passover story in the Book of Exodus—Moses’s mother, Yocheved, his sister, Miriam, the midwives Shifra and Puah, who defied Pharaoh’s decree to kill all the Israelite baby boys, and the Pharaoh’s daughter, Batya, who also defied her father’s decree, saving the baby Moses from the Nile. Ginsburg’s coauthor was Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, the assistant rabbi at Adas Israel, Washington’s largest Conservative synagogue and the wife of Ginsburg’s former law clerk Ari Holtzblatt.

Although not a regular synagogue goer, in recent years Ginsburg, who does not work on Yom Kippur, has attended High Holy Day services at Congregation Adas Israel, where she is an honorary member. In 2003, the Supreme Court, for the first time in its twenty-eight-year tradition of opening its sessions on the first Monday in October, suspended its opening arguments for a day in deference to the public requests of Justices Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, who both planned to be in synagogue for Yom Kippur.

She has also admitted to having a strong “devotion to Jewish ethical values.” Addressing the American Jewish Committee’s 1995 annual meeting, Ginsburg spoke proudly of the age-old connection between Judaism and the law and of Judaism’s commitment to social justice. “The demand for justice runs through the entirety of the Jewish tradition,” she declared. “Jews in large numbers became lawyers, some eventually became judges, and the best of those jurists used the law to secure justice for others.” She continued: “[The role of laws] as protectors of the oppressed, the loner, is evident in the work of my Jewish predecessors on the Supreme Court. The biblical command, ‘justice, justice thou shalt pursue’ is a strand that ties them together. I keep those words on the wall of my Supreme Court chambers, as an ever present reminder of what judges must do ‘that they may thrive.’” Quoting her Jewish Supreme Court predecessor, and former AJC president, Arthur Goldberg, who once said that “my concern for justice, for peace, for enlightenment, all stem from my heritage,” Ginsburg concluded that “I am fortunate to be connected to that heritage.” Although Ginsburg has especially praised Judaism’s commitment to social justice, which has been central to her Jewish identity, she has interestingly denied that being Jewish has ever directly affected her judicial opinions.

The Question of Ginsburg’s Retirement

One of the great prerogatives of presidential leadership is to appoint Supreme Court justices who share the president’s political views and policy preferences. It is thus commonly assumed that a liberal Democratic president’s nominees will have a liberal record while on the Court and a conservative Republican’s appointees will have a conservative record. History, however, has often proven this assumption incorrect. President Eisenhower famously lamented that his appointment of Earl Warren as Chief Justice was the biggest mistake of his presidency, and had he lived FDR would presumably have shared this lament about Justice Felix Frankfurter, a staunchly liberal New Dealer who ended his career as the Warren Court’s most conservative member. The court’s most recent retirees, Justices David Souter and John Paul Stevens, both appointed by Republican presidents, moved to the left throughout their respective tenures. George H. W. Bush, on the recommendation of his conservative White House chief of staff, John Sununu, nominated David Souter, a little-known judge whom Sununu had appointed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court while governor, assuming he would be a reliably conservative voice. Indeed, however, Souter proved to be a consistent liberal who invariably voted with the liberal bloc on the court. And the Chicago Republican John Paul Stevens, appointed by President Gerald Ford in 1975, turned out to be a much-admired liberal justice for thirty-five years, until his retirement in 2010, when President Obama appointed Elena Kagan to succeed him. Both Justices Souter and Stevens waited to retire until a Democrat, Barack Obama, was president and could appoint a liberal to succeed them.

Following Stevens’s retirement at age ninety-one, many speculated that the seventy-seven-year-old Ginsburg, who had undergone treatment for colon and pancreatic cancer and was the next oldest justice, would soon retire as well. But Ginsburg, who had also just endured the death of her husband of fifty-six years, insisted she had no such plans to retire any time soon, and that she wanted to serve at least as long as Justice Brandeis, who had retired at age eighty-two after twenty-three years on the court. In 2017, Ginsburg surpassed Justices Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter, who also served twenty-three years, thus becoming the longest-serving Jewish Justice in American history. Her attempt to achieve this milestone generated much discussion, including criticism.

Some of this criticism came from liberal supporters who felt Ginsburg should have retired before 2012, with Democrats holding the White House and the Senate, allowing Obama to appoint a liberal Democrat as her successor. After all, the argument went, there was no guarantee Obama would be reelected and that the Democrats would continue as the majority in the Senate. Meanwhile, a Republican President Mitt Romney would have been unlikely to have appointed a liberal to the bench. Some liberals, in calling for Ginsburg’s retirement, cited the precedent of the liberal justice Thurgood Marshall, who had held his seat in ill health for several years, permitting President George H. W. Bush to appoint the conservative Clarence Thomas to succeed him. In an April 2011 New Republic article, “The Case for Early Retirement,” the liberal Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy also called for the retirement of Breyer, who is five years younger than Ginsburg. Their retirement, argued Kennedy, “would be the responsible thing for them to do. Both have served with distinction on the Supreme Court for a substantial period… . Both are unlikely … to outlast a two-term Republican presidential administration, should one supersede the Obama administration following the 2012 election.”

After citing the examples of “liberal leaning” justices such as Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, and David Souter, who retired during the Clinton and Obama presidencies, “while more conservative-leaning justices such as Sandra Day O’Connor, Lewis Powell and Warren Burger retired during the Reagan, Bush I and Bush II presidencies,” Kennedy noted that “if Ginsburg or Breyer (or both) announced retirement at the end of this Supreme Court term (pending the confirmation of successors), they could virtually guarantee that President Obama would get to select their replacements.” While, technically, Kennedy was directing his retirement advice to both Breyer and Ginsburg, he was more concerned about Ginsburg, who appeared to be following Justice Marshall’s inadvisable precedent of resisting retirement for many years, despite failing health. For Kennedy, the belated retirement of Marshall, for whom Kennedy had clerked, offered a “cautionary tale.” If Justice Ginsburg retired after 2012, with a Republican in the White House, “it is probable that the female Thurgood Marshall will be replaced by a female Clarence Thomas.”

Pressure for Ginsburg to retire did not let up after Obama’s reelection. Now eighty-four and with her pancreatic and colon cancer apparently in remission, Ginsburg says she is in excellent health, even lifting weights despite having cracked a pair of ribs and having had a stent placed in one of her coronary arteries. Indeed, she had “vowed to resist any pressure that might come from liberals who want to ensure that Democratic President Barack Obama can pick her successor before the November 2016 presidential election.” Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, many of Ginsburg’s liberal friends and supporters have expressed their profound disappointment that she had not retired earlier when President Obama was still in the White House. During the presidential campaign, Trump had circulated lists of twenty-one potential Supreme Court nominees to succeed Justice Scalia, all of them well-established conservative Republicans, such as Neal Gorsuch who he appointed. None of them were Jewish. More than once, during the past year, Ginsburg had indicated that she has no intention to retire while Donald Trump was in the White House. Ginsburg has articulated her own timetable for knowing when to retire. “When I forget the names of the cases that I once could recite at the drop of a hat,” she has said, “I will know.” If her health permits, Ginsburg may continue to serve on the Court for three or more years. Regardless of when she retires, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s unique place in American Jewish history as the Supreme Court’s first Jewish woman, and the longest-serving Jewish Justice in the history of the Court, has been assured.

Excerpted from “Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court,” from Brandeis to Kagan, by David G. Dalin, published by Brandeis University Press.


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