Twenty years ago this month Ruth Bader Ginsburg became a Supreme Court justice and ever since then she has been making history. Her opinions, whether in agreement or dissent on a wide range of cases have kept the Court on an even balance over the years.
Media pundits have been talking and writing about Ginsburg’s legacy and they often seem surprised that at the age of 80 she is still going strong in her demanding job. But there is one factor that no one has mentioned so far that might have improved her vitality and her long-lived success. She went to Cornell University, graduating in 1954, not too far off from the year I graduated from Cornell. In those days men far outnumbered women at the university, and one of the popular folk beliefs among the men was that coeds lost their good looks because they had to climb the hills of Ithaca to go to classes. It was said that our legs became too muscular and we looked more like athletes than “real women”. Well, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and all of the women of our generation who are still alive and participating in the world, were probably strengthened by all that walking on those snowy hills. Justice Ginsburg regularly goes to the gym and is reputed to be strong and fit. Perhaps the world owes a vote of thanks to the good start she got on the hills of Ithaca.
Of course physical vitality is only a tiny part of Justice Ginsburg’s many extraordinary attributes. She proved herself a brilliant lawyer and a staunch advocate of the rights of women and of all citizens to equal treatment before the law. Unlike some justices, she does not believe that the Constitution is an unchanging text set in stone, but rather a document written by humane leaders setting forth the basic principles of democratic government. As the world and society changes, Justice Ginsburg’s view of the Constitution is not bound by the 18th century meaning of words but rather by the deepest values of our ever-changing population.
Let’s all wish Justice Ginsburg a happy anniversary of service and hope that she continues to add her valuable voice to the Supreme Court for many more years!