The Scholarly Rbg an Inspiring Biography of a Legal Pioneer

By Goldstein, Joel | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), October 21, 2018 | Go to article overview

The Scholarly Rbg an Inspiring Biography of a Legal Pioneer


Goldstein, Joel, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Eighty-five year old Supreme Court justices are usually not cultural icons. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is, and Jane Sherron De Hart's scholarly, yet accessible, book, "Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life," explains how and why that has come to be.

In this comprehensive biography of the 107th person, and second woman, to serve on the United States Supreme Court, Ms. De Hart draws upon her expertise as a political historian and scholar of women's studies and on numerous interviews with Justice Ginsburg, her family and some of her friends, access to some of her private papers, and archival and secondary sources.

Ms. De Hart situates Justice Ginsburg's public career in the context of her life and times. Thus, the book's fascinating first six chapters present experiences of her first four decades, which shaped impactful people of the past half century.

They describe her childhood in a Jewish household in an immigrant Brooklyn neighborhood and the enormous influence of her mother, Celia, who died from cervical cancer just before Ms. Ginsburg's high school graduation; her college years at Cornell University, where extraordinary teachers encouraged her appreciation of words, of constitutional law and civil liberties; and where most importantly, she met Martin Ginsburg, a fun-loving and brilliant student who became her husband of 56 years and greatest champion even as he became a leading tax law practitioner and scholar.

The opening chapters also describe the future justice's enormous academic success at male-dominated Harvard and Columbia University law schools even though she was the mother of a toddler and wife of a husband stricken with testicular cancer; her inability to gain positions at leading law firms and prestigious clerkships, no doubt due to gender and motherhood; and the beginning of her career as a law school teacher and scholar of civil procedure and comparative law.

Ms. De Hart shows how the developing feminist movement encouraged law schools to introduce courses on gender discrimination, a demand that further burdened the few women academics like Justice Ginsburg. Her new expertise, informed by her own experiences and her social consciousness, positioned Ms. Ginsburg to play a leading role in the effort to establish constitutional prohibitions against federal and state laws discriminating against women.

Seven chapters detail Justice Ginsburg's emergence as a lawyer who participated in most of the leading gender discrimination cases before the United States Supreme Court during the 1970s, the period in which, largely in response to Justice Ginsburg's work, the U. …

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