Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Hero on the Bench

by Sanya Sitlani from San Diego, California in United States

130954Ginsburg poses for an official Supreme Court portrait.“A hero embodies what we believe is best in ourselves,” as James Fleming writes in his review of Superman on the Couch (Fleming 2). Heroes exemplify the traits we as a society strive toward and uphold the values of our culture. They pose as strong role models for the rest of us to admire and strive to imitate. Even in our modern era of hailing dubious celebrities and viral superstars, we still look to heroes for a true depiction of our ideals of virtue and ethics. Internet personalities are, for the most part, unable to demonstrate these values, leaving gaps in our understanding of morality. True heroes fill these voids, using their strong characters and principled actions to show us how to act in times when we need it the most. We can find idols like these in many aspects of our lives should we seek them out, like emergency management personnel who risk their lives to protect people or social activists who dedicate their time to aiding others. While each of us may be constantly confronted with the opportunity to pursue a life of creating change and helping others succeed, true heroes remain separate from ordinary people in their acceptance of these chances, despite the many possible costs. The effects of their actions are not necessarily what make them heroic, but rather the reasons for which they perform these acts; they are heroic only because they seek the benefit of others, the betterment of society, and the achievement of fairness. While heroes may vary in plenty of ways, all of them must possess the ability to persevere through hardship and the determination to ensure equality for all people.

The epitome of the heroic traits of persistence and passion for fairness is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ginsburg serves as a Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States and acts as a staunch supporter of gender equality. She was born March 15, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York, and attended the prestigious Columbia, Cornell, and Harvard Universities, graduating first in her class from Harvard Law School in 1959. Despite initial difficulty in finding work as a female, she practiced as a lawyer for twenty years and established the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union in 1973. She later judged for the District of Columbia Court of Appeals until her appointment to the Supreme Court in 1993 under then-president Bill Clinton. Despite a series of severe health problems, like colon cancer in 1999, pancreatic cancer in 2009, a heart stent procedure in 2014, and broken ribs and cancerous lung nodules in 2018, Ginsburg continues to serve on the Supreme Court today nevertheless. Her resilience even through these painful experiences only serves to prove her strong character and determination. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s unyielding perseverance throughout endless hardships and steadfast pursuit of equality regardless of gender make her a true inspiration and a hero of the modern era.

130955Ginsburg accepts her nomination to the Supreme Court alongside President Clinton in the Rose Garden in 1993. the many obstacles Ginsburg encountered in her lifetime, she refused to quit following her dreams, carrying on no matter what troubles came her way. As she finished up her undergraduate studies and began considering a graduate degree, she was faced with the dilemma of either following her family’s wishes and pursuing a more accessible career or going into her chosen field of law, which was a difficult path for women to succeed in at the time: “The pervading attitudes of the 1950s did not lend themselves easily to women in the legal profession, and Nathan Bader, a man of modest means, worried about his daughter's financial security, directing her towards teaching. Ruth, however, was inspired by her government studies and could not be forced to change her mind. She went ahead with her law school plans, attending Harvard University” (“Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Biography Today). Bader may have discouraged her from lawin his concern, but Ginsburg was resolute in her decision. Her inspiration from her studies had aided her in discovering her true fascination with law, and she refused to let anything interfere with it, including the limited opportunities for women. Through her accomplishment of prevailing in law school at a time when females were an extreme minority in the field, Ginsburg demonstrated to others the value of hard work and persistence in achieving one’s goals, inspiring them to chase their own dreams. By nature of her encouragement of others to pursue their passions, Ginsburg proves herself to be a true hero. She continued to persevere through obstacles in both her career and her personal life, right up to the death of her beloved husband Martin “Marty” Ginsburg in 2010: “The court was sitting the day after Marty’s death, and RBG had an opinion in a key case, which said that a Christian group at a public university could not bar gay students from attending meetings … And so she sat there, on the bench, with a dark ribbon of mourning in her hair” (Carmon and Knizhnik). Ginsburg knew that she was essential to win the landmark case, as her absence could result in a per curiam or four-on-four tie, where the discriminatory policy would be upheld. She overcame her own personal grief and mourning to take part in the decision, with her vote resulting in a victory for the students and towards improving the freedom of all Americans to live their lives without fear of persecution. She displayed heroism in her ability to carry on through difficult times without conceding defeat or giving up her responsibilities as a justice because of struggles in her personal life, conveying the values of perseverance to the world at large. Ginsburg’s diligence and pursuit of her passions even when faced with towering hardships illustrates her position as a heroic role model for the people of the modern era, showing the world that great deeds can be accomplished even when times are at their hardest, through hard work and effort.

130956Ginsburg stands with President Obama and fellow female justice Elena Kagan in the Oval Office in 2010. fought tirelessly to end prejudice and promote gender equality for men and women alike throughout her career. When questioned in an interview about how many women on the Supreme Court would be enough, she responded, “Nine women. There will be enough women on the Supreme Court when there are nine of them … And I will do everything in my power to make that happen” (Ginsburg 00:00:31-00:01:08). Her emphatic response clearly depicts her passion for equality and drive to reach fairness, especially in her statement that she will do “everything in her power” to ensure that in the future there will be an all-female Supreme Court. Ginsburg promised to do all that she can to elicit change in the outdated court system, and her views regarding female justices reflects that. Her strong will to achieve equal opportunity regardless of gender represents just one facet of her heroism, showing how she craves to make the world a better place for every citizen of it, no matter their identity. Ginsburg also successfully argued on the behalf of several men who had been wrongfully denied rights or privileges on the basis of gender: “One such case, Craig v. Boren, which Ginsburg argued before the court in 1976, resulted in a standard still used in cases of sex discrimination. The Oklahoma law, struck down after Ginsburg's Supreme Court challenge, allowed women aged 19 to buy 3.2 percent beer, while men had to be 21 to do so” (“Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Newsmakers) Not only did she fight to improve the lives of women, but Ginsburg also defended the rights of men in her career, like in Craig v. Boren and several other cases. Her zeal for equal rights and unbiased treatment applied to more than just attaining benefits for women, but also ensured that men were also treated equally under the law. Ginsburg’s efforts to obtain equality for men and women show her truly heroic traits, as her work to secure rights regardless of gender benefited everyone by guaranteeing equal opportunities in the workplace and in everyday life. Her dedication to successfully reaching gender equality clearly displays her as an inspiration to all, as she aims to establish a better world for the good of all citizens.

As demonstrated by her relentless pursuit of her goals even through adversity and her drive to end gender discrimination while helping others, Ruth Bader Ginsburg proves herself as the quintessential hero of the twenty-first century. Ginsburg showcases key traits of a role model, with her undying perseverance and passion for equality. She works infinitely hard to keep up her personal and professional lives, even with the difficulties in both: “From 1963 to 1972, Ginsburg taught at Rutgers University Law School, commuting to Newark, New Jersey, each day while juggling her expanding family responsibilities at home in New York … Nevertheless, the Ginsburgs remained dedicated to their professional goals, with Ruth never considering a leave of absence” (“Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Biography Today). Ginsburg’s ability to maintain a career, support her family, and care for her father while never taking a leave or considering abandoning any of it is an admirable trait of hers and demonstrates how adept she is at handling an immense workload with ease. Her strength and resilience show just how much any one of us can be capable of, and encourage us to find the extent of our own talents. She demonstrated her egalitarian attitude in a letter to Don Edwards supporting the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, an edit to the constitution that would clarify that men and women are given the same constitutional rights; she stated that “[Sweden’s prime minister] emphasized that equal rights entailed emancipation of the man as much as the woman, an idea I agree very much with” (Ginsburg). Ginsburg recognized that true equality could not be attained until both men and women were freed from the stereotypes surrounding them. Equal rights must be equal for all parties involved, and her ensuring that this would be the outcome of the amendment showed her dedication to achieving tolerance and fairness for everyone, a trait that all of us should attempt to embody in our own actions as she does. Ginsburg has certainly inspired me in a multitude of ways since I first read about her at age nine, but the greatest of them was to encourage me to support some of the marginalized and less fortunate groups in my community like she did. Because of this motivation, I joined with some of my cousins to found Shoecyclist, a certified non-profit organization that collects donations of money and shoes to deliver to the homeless in our cities. Without Ginsburg’s influence pushing me to persevere through the difficulties of trying to start this charity, I likely would have given up and not succeeded in my endeavor to do so. Her sharing of her own success prompted me to continue trying to improve the lives of those less fortunate than me, even despite several failures, and surely could spur others into taking action as well. Ginsburg’s victories can motivate ordinary people like me into taking the initiative and helping others despite challenges, showing her heroic effect on the people of today. James Fleming writes that “a hero embodies what we believe is best in ourselves,” and he is indeed correct. But heroes do more than just embody values. To be a real hero, one must persist through adversity and promote fairness, and, most importantly, inspire others while doing so, like she does. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s resolute perseverance even when faced with injustice and staunch pursuit of gender equality prove her to be a person truly worthy of the title “hero.”

Works Cited

Carmon, Irin, and Shana Knizhnik. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Dey Street Books, 2015.

Fleming, James. "Review of Superman on the Couch: What Superheroes Really Tell Us about Ourselves and Our Society by Danny Fingeroth." ImageTexT: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies. 2.2 (2006). Dept of English, University of Florida. 15 Jan 2019.

Ginsburg, Ruth Bader. “Letter from Ruth Bader Ginsburg Supporting the Equal Rights Amendment.” Received by Don Edwards, House of Representatives, 15 Apr. 1971, Washington, D.C.

Ginsburg, Ruth Bader, and Diane Sawyer. “A Chat with the First Women of the Supreme Court.”, 2010, Accessed 6 Jan. 2018.

"Ruth Bader Ginsburg." Newsmakers, Gale, 1993. Biography In Context, Accessed 19 Dec. 2018.

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Biography Today), Jan. 2010, p. 1. EBSCOhost,

Page created on 2/13/2019 4:39:21 AM

Last edited 2/13/2019 5:18:35 AM

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Related Links

The ACLU's Women's Rights Project - The Women's Rights Project was co-founded by Ginsburg in 1972, and it has fought to protect the rights of women in the workplace and daily life ever since.
The Official Notorious RBG Website - This fan-run blog features exclusive Ginsburg content and even developed into a biography of the same name.