10 Things You Didn't Know About RBG
At age 85, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the eldest – and arguably the most notorious – of the nine sitting U.S. Supreme Court justices. A 1993 appointee of President Bill Clinton and only the second woman in history named to the bench, Justice Ginsburg has cemented herself as a bona fide legend on the Court – often described as “The Great Dissenter” for her sharply-written opinions on several high-profile decisions.
To help you prep for the Sept. 3 CNN premiere of RBG – the critically-acclaimed CNN Films documentary – here are 10 little-known facts that reveal more about the woman behind the bench:
- She has always been a pioneer – even back to her school days.
Ginsburg was one of only nine women in her class of 500 at Harvard Law School in 1956, where she began to hone her gender equality platform.
The women were admonished by the law school’s dean for taking the places of qualified males, but Ginsburg pressed on – eventually becoming the first female member of the prestigious legal journal, the Harvard Law Review.
She finished her final year of law school at Columbia University after following her husband who had a job offer in New York City. Later in 1972, she became Columbia Law School’s first female tenured professor.
- Her iconic collars reveal her case decisions.
Ginsburg and then-Justice Sandra Day O'Connor came up with the idea to use collars (also known as jabots) to stand out from the traditional black robes worn by the rest of the justices.
"You know, the standard robe is made for a man because it has a place for the shirt to show, and the tie," Ginsburg told the Washington Post in 2009. "So, Sandra Day O'Connor and I thought it would be appropriate if we included as part of our robe something typical of a woman. So, I have many, many collars."
But it’s not always the frilly lace jabots you’ll see her wearing. Ginsburg has two go-to’s on decision days: a lace collar featuring gold-chain trim and charms – a gift from one of her former clerks – serves as her majority-opinion collar, while a mirrored bib necklace serves as her dissenting-opinion collar (i.e. when she’s voting with the minority).
- She helped publish a cookbook in her late husband’s honor.
Ginsburg's more than half-century marriage to successful tax lawyer Martin "Marty" Ginsburg, who died in 2010, was one of Washington's most legendary pairings. The couple met on a blind date in 1950.
Besides his legal expertise, Marty was something of an amateur chef. Where his wife was culinarily challenged, he took charge of the kitchen – much to the delight of their two children, Jane and James. He always made sure there was dinner on the table and would often drag his wife out of the office late at night to ensure she ate a proper meal and got some rest. He once said, “My wife doesn’t give me any advice about cooking, and I don’t give her any advice about the law.”
After he passed away, Martha-Ann Alito, wife of Justice Samuel Alito, had the idea to put together a cookbook of his best recipes to honor his memory, entitled “Chef Supreme: Martin Ginsburg.”
- She’s a life-long opera lover – and has even performed in a few!
“When I’m at on opera, I get totally carried away,” said Ginsburg. “I don’t think about the case coming up next week. I’m overwhelmed by the music and the beauty… the sound of human voice is like an electric current going through.”
In 2016, she traded in her judicial robe for a speaking role as the Duchess of Krakenthorp in “The Daughter of the Regiment" at the Kennedy Center.
Ginsburg has appeared in three other operas dating back to 1994 but in non-speaking roles.
- She forged an unlikely friendship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
They were known as “the odd couple” on the Court. Despite their opposing ideologies on the bench, Justices Ginsburg and Scalia had a mutual respect for one another. Both were from New York and shared an immense love for the opera. Their families even went on vacations together.
- Before becoming a judge, she won five of the six cases she argued before the U.S. Supreme Court as a litigator.
During the 1970s, Ginsburg served as the director of the Women's Rights Project at the ACLU. There, she litigated gender-equality cases, winning five of the six cases she argued before the Supreme Court. Her cases dealt with instances when not only women – but also men and families – were victims of discriminatory laws.
- She can probably do more pushups than you. Seriously.
According to her 2015 biography, “Notorious RBG,” Ginsburg’s workout regimen is hardcore.
Her trainer, Bryant Johnson, liked to start her off with a five-minute warm-up on the elliptical (looking just as stylish as she does here sporting this “Super Diva” sweatshirt), one-legged squats, planks, and 30 pushups twice a week. She may be down to about 20 pushups now, but that’s probably 20 more than some of her colleagues on the bench can press.
- She’s a two-time cancer survivor.
In 1999, Ginsburg was diagnosed with colon cancer and didn't miss a day of work during her treatment.
She was later diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2009, and once again, refused to let that slow her down.
- A new movie about one of her most renowned court cases premieres in December.
“On the Basis of Sex,” starring Felicity Jones, centers around Ginsburg as a young lawyer. The film chronicles one of Ginsburg’s earliest cases, Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld.
For this case, Ginsburg’s litigation strategy was to demonstrate that gender discrimination hurt men as well as women. She argued that a widower – Stephen Wiesenfeld – was denied his wife’s survivor benefits under Social Security and that violated the right to equal protection secured by the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.
- She’s not going anywhere just yet…
Just like Justice John Paul Stevens who stepped down at the age of 90, Ginsburg says she hopes to stay on the Supreme Court at least five more years.
“I will do this job as long as I can do it full steam,” she said.
In fact, she has already hired law clerks for at least two more terms.