Ruth Bader Ginsburg Won't Be Happy Until There are 9 Women on the Supreme Court

February 9th 2015

Kathleen Toohill

In a talk at Georgetown's law school last week, 21-year veteran of the Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she has a simple answer for when she's asked when there will be enough women on the Supreme Court. 

"When there are nine," Justice Ginsburg replied.

Justice Ginsburg spoke of the challenges she faced when she was new to the legal profession: “In the ancient days when I was going to college, the law was not a welcoming profession for women. In those days in the southern districts, most judges wouldn't hire women.”

When Justice Ginsburg graduated from Columbia Law School in 1959 at the top of her class, she had no job offers. 

Justice Ginsburg continued, “In the U.S. Attorney's office, women were strictly forbidden in the criminal division. There was one woman in the civil division. And the excuse for not hiring women in the criminal division was 'they have to deal with all these tough types and women aren't up to that.' And I was amazed! I said, 'have you seen the lawyers from Legal Aid who are representing these tough types? They are women!'"

On the subject of what talent she would have if she could have any talent in the world, Justice Ginsburg responded that she would be a “great diva.” One would expect nothing less from the subject of the Notorious R.B.G. tumblr, soon to be made into a book of fan-submitted R.B.G. art. Needless to say, R.B.G. herself loves the tumblr. 

A 2013 profile of Justice Ginsburg in The New Yorker refers to her as “by far the Court’s most accomplished litigator.” Justice Ginsburg has been a staunch advocate for women since long before she ascended to her seat on the Supreme Court in 1993. She was the first tenured professor at Columbia Law School and co-founded the first law review centered exclusively on women’s issues. In 1974, Justice Ginsburg authored Sex-Based Discrimination: Text, Cases, and Materials, along with Kenneth Davidson and Herma Hill Kay. 

In 2007, Justice Ginsburg challenged the gender pay gap with her dissent in the case Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., even going so far as to invite Congress to intervene in the Court's decision. In 2009, Congress overruled the Court’s decision, and President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. This past summer Justice Ginsburg authored the dissent to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, which said closely held corporations had a right to avoid government mandates that impinged on their religious beliefs. The mandate at issue in that case was a regulation from the federal government that said employers had to provide health insurance that included access to contraception.

“The court forgets that religious organizations exist to serve a community of believers,” Justice Ginsburg wrote. “For-profit corporations do not fit that bill."