Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of the most beloved justices in American history. Commonly known as "Notorious RBG" to her following, Ginsburg spent a lifetime flourishing in the face of adversity. Her legal career, including working for the American Civil Liberties Union where she headed the Women's Rights Project, spanned more than half a century, culminating in her 1993 appointment to the United States Supreme Court.
Overcoming gender discrimination in the legal field, Ginsburg acted as a forceful voice for women's interests and civil rights throughout her career. In her later years, Ginsburg embraced her role as an unexpected cult hero. Known for her iconic large-rimmed glasses, frilly collar, and short ponytail, to a whole generation of young women, RBG was the embodiment of hope for an empowered future.
Only the second woman appointed to the country's highest court, Ginsburg attributed many of her life's influences to her experiences as an undergraduate student at Cornell University. In 1950 Ginsburg arrived on the Ithaca campus with a full scholarship. During her first semester, she met her future husband, Martin Ginsburg, who would continue to exert a strong and supportive influence on Ginsburg for most of her life. In the same year, Ginsburg also joined the Women’s Self Government Association, and after losing the vice presidency, she found her calling as the chair of the Women’s Vocational Information Committee.
Ginsburg was an excellent student. She worked as a research assistant for Professor Robert E. Cushman, which was where she first became interested in law. She also credits legendary writer Vladimir Nabokov (who was sojourning at Cornell at the time) for continuing her interest in words and writing, skills that would later be useful as a lawyer. Ginsburg earned her bachelor's degree in government from Cornell University in 1954, finishing first in her class.
An active alumna, Ginsburg returned to Cornell for lectures and special events periodically over the course of six decades. In 2003, she returned to Ithaca for the Barton Hall inauguration of Jeffrey Lehman, Cornell’s first alumnus president. She praised Cornell and each of its presidents for the school’s post-Civil War vision of equality in education. In 2007, Ginsburg made a slightly longer trip when she attended the dedication of Cornell’s American law center in Paris. Her final physical visit to Cornell came in 2014 when she returned for an inspiring, humorous, and highly candid talk about how the university shaped her journey to the Supreme Court.
In response to Ginsburg's "lifelong connection" to her alma mater, Cornell has recently announced that the university will pay permanent tribute to the trailblazing justice. Cornell President Martha E. Pollack spoke to the legacy of this notable Cornellian. "Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a true hero and a giant of American jurisprudence. A relentless champion of equity, she dedicated her life to innumerable, honorable causes, always fighting for what was right."
President Pollack announced that one of the new residence halls will be named after Ginsburg. Pollack also announced the creation of the Ruth Bader and Martin D. Ginsburg Program. It will be used to create a new program at Cornell honoring the interests of iconic Justice and her husband.
While Ginsburg was known for her reserved personality, it is hard to imagine RBG not enjoying her continued presence at Cornell these days, the same place which served as a strong foundation for her subsequent legal education and notable career.