Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or as she has become more commonly known as the Notorious RBG, is the subject of a brilliant documentary directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West. RBG, as we’ve come to know and love the unlikely feminist and liberal icon, was born in Brooklyn. She had an interesting and somewhat difficult childhood. Young Ruth was quiet and reserved but brilliant. She did not go to her own high school graduation because her mother passed away from cancer. We found out she also lost a sister, but the documentary doesn’t state why.
College and Law School Years
As Ruth Bader entered Cornell University, she met Marty Ginsburg, a gregarious young man who would prove to be the yin to her yang. The two began a love story that would last more than fifty years until Marty’s untimely death in 2010. Ruth and Marty went on to Harvard Law School, where young Ruth, now a mother to her daughter Jane, learned to take care of both Marty, who was ill with testicular cancer, her daughter and herself. Her steely resolve earned her a coveted position on the Harvard Law Review. This was unheard of for a woman at the time.
Being one of few women in her class was probably difficult for her, but you’d never know it. Bader Ginsburg already showed the steely resolve that makes her the great dissenter on the current Supreme Court. She would leave Harvard for Columbia Law to finish her degree only to follow Marty, who got a job as a tax attorney in New York.
Post Law School
For several years, Bader Ginsburg would struggle finding work as a female lawyer, largely due to discrimination against her gender. She would take that cause up in 1972, when she became the co-founder of the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU. She would go on to argue six cases against the Supreme Court for the ACLU, five of which she won.
A Jill of Many Legal Trades
Professor, lawyer, advocate and trailblazer, Bader Ginsburg won a spot on the U.S. Court of Appeals. She was nominated by Jimmy Carter in 1980. She and Marty moved to Washington at this point and the focus was placed on her career. Her children tell of a childhood in which mama barely laughed or joked or cooked. It seems that Marty was content to let her shine despite her less glossy personality.
Supreme Court Dreams
In fact, when Bader Ginsburg was being considered for a Supreme Court nomination in 1993 under then-president Bill Clinton, he was her biggest advocate and lobbied for her to be on the Court. Whether Marty had much sway remains to be seen. Clinton, himself, said that, upon meeting Ginsburg that, ‘he knew within 15 minutes’, that he wanted her on the Court.
She was the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court, after Sandra Day O’Connor and the most liberal to date. Interestingly enough, Bader Ginsburg’s politics have only become more liberal as the Court has moved to a more conservative bent in recent years. She has become known as the outspoken ‘dissenter’ who makes eloquent and impassioned pleas that the Court not be removed from American life and look at the Constitution as a moving, living, breathing document that changes with the times.
Unlike her good friend and fellow justice, the now-deceased Antonin Scalia, Bader Ginsburg thinks the Constitution is not a product of its time, but meant for all time. The two’s unlikely friendship is catalogued in the documentary and it’s sweet to see two people who have very different politics come together in their respect for each other and their love of opera.
In essence, RBG is a love letter to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but it’s one that’s well deserved. I think this is a movie that everyone should see. The Notorious RBG has earned her moniker and her place in American History. She is a true icon. A hero. A badass.