Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined the U.S. Supreme Court on August 10, 1993, replacing Justice Byron White. Ginsburg was born on March 15, 1933 in New York City. She graduated from Cornell University in 1954. Ginsburg then paused her education for two years, while her husband was stationed in Oklahoma for military service. She attended Harvard Law School from 1956 to 1958, but she transferred to Columbia Law School to complete her degree. Ginsburg graduated at the top of her class at Columbia in 1959.

Ginsburg spent two years as a clerk in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, which is the federal trial court for New York City. (U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter refused to interview her for a clerkship due to her gender.) Ginsburg then worked at a research project at Columbia Law School before becoming a professor at Rutgers Law School in 1963. She would stay at Rutgers for nearly a decade. In 1972, Ginsburg joined the faculty at Columbia Law School. During the 1970s, she also spearheaded the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, arguing several cases before the Supreme Court. She won victories against gender discrimination that left a lasting impact on the law.

In April 1980, President Jimmy Carter nominated Ginsburg to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She joined the D.C. Circuit two months later and would stay there for the next 13 years. On June 22, 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated Ginsburg to the Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed her on August 3 in a 96-3 vote, and she took the judicial oath a week later.

Ginsburg joined the liberal bloc on the Court and became the senior member of that group after Justice John Paul Stevens retired in 2010. She supported affirmative action programs and voting rights, and she often took a broad view of Fourth Amendment protections against searches and seizures. Ginsburg firmly endorsed the right to abortion, while continuing her commitment to advancing women’s rights more generally. One of her most famous opinions came in U.S. v. Virginia, in which she found that the government must have an "exceedingly persuasive justification" to classify people based on their gender.

During the later stages of her tenure, Ginsburg unleashed a series of incisive dissents from conservative majorities on the Court. This earned her the nickname of "The Notorious RBG," which she relished. However, her strong (and strongly expressed) convictions did not prevent her from forming a friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia, a staunch conservative.

Some liberals grew frustrated with Ginsburg when she declined to retire from the Court during the administration of President Barack Obama, despite her faltering health. She stayed on the Court until her death on September 18, 2020, near the end of the administration of President Donald Trump. The Senate rapidly confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett to fill Ginsburg’s seat, accelerating the Court’s shift to the right.

Selected Opinions by Justice Ginsburg:

Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com. B.V. (2020)

Topic: Trademarks

A term styled “generic.com” is a generic name for a class of goods or services only if the term has that meaning to consumers.

Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com, LLC (2019)

Topic: Copyrights

A copyright claimant may commence an infringement lawsuit only when the Copyright Office registers a copyright. Upon registration of the copyright, the copyright owner can recover damages for infringement both before and after registration.

Timbs v. Indiana (2019)

Topic: Due Process

The Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment is an incorporated protection applicable to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause.

Digital Reality Trust, Inc. v. Somers (2018)

Topic: Labor & Employment

Dodd-Frank's anti-retaliation provision does not extend to an individual who has not reported a violation of the securities laws to the SEC.

BNSF Railroad Co. v. Tyrrell (2017)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

A state court may exercise general jurisdiction over out-of-state corporations when their affiliations with the state are so continuous and systematic as to render them essentially at home in the forum state. This due process constraint applies to all state-court assertions of general jurisdiction over non-resident defendants and does not vary with the type of claim asserted or business enterprise sued.

Betterman v. Montana (2016)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

The Sixth Amendment's speedy trial guarantee does not apply once a defendant has been found guilty at trial or has pleaded guilty to criminal charges.

Evenwel v. Abbott (2016)

Topic: Voting & Elections

A state or locality may draw its legislative districts based on total population.

Rodriguez v. U.S. (2015)

Topic: Search & Seizure

Without reasonable suspicion, police extension of a traffic stop to conduct a dog sniff violates the Constitution's shield against unreasonable seizures.

Nautilus, Inc. v. Biosig Instruments, Inc. (2014)

Topic: Patents

A patent is invalid for indefiniteness if its claims, read in light of the patent's specification and prosecution history, fail to inform, with reasonable certainty, those skilled in the art about the scope of the invention.

Los Angeles County Flood Control Dist. v. NRDC (2013)

Topic: Climate Change & Environment

The flow of water from an improved portion of a navigable waterway into an unimproved portion of the same waterway does not qualify as a discharge of a pollutant under the Clean Water Act.

Arkansas Game & Fish Commission v. U.S. (2012)

Topic: Property Rights & Land Use

Government-induced flooding temporary in duration gains no automatic exemption from Takings Clause inspection.

Vartelas v. Holder (2012)

Topic: Immigration & National Security

The impact of travel abroad on the permanent resident status of a foreign national with a criminal conviction is determined by the legal regime in force at the time of the conviction.

Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown (2011)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

Ties serving to bolster the exercise of specific jurisdiction do not warrant a determination that, based on those ties, the forum has general jurisdiction over a defendant.

American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut (2011)

Topic: Climate Change & Environment

The Clean Air Act and the EPA action that the Act authorizes displace any federal common-law right to seek abatement of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants.

Bullcoming v. New Mexico (2011)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

If an out-of-court statement is testimonial in nature, it may not be introduced against the accused at trial unless the witness who made the statement is unavailable, and the accused has had a prior opportunity to confront that witness.

Florida v. Powell (2010)

Topic: Miranda Rights

While the warnings prescribed by Miranda are invariable, the Supreme Court has not dictated the words in which the essential information must be conveyed. In determining whether police warnings are satisfactory, a reviewing court must determine whether the warnings reasonably convey to a suspect their rights as required by Miranda.

Arizona v. Johnson (2009)

Topic: Search & Seizure

In a traffic stop setting, the first Terry condition (a lawful investigatory stop) is met whenever it is lawful for police to detain an automobile and its occupants pending inquiry into a vehicular violation. The police need not have cause to believe that any occupant of the vehicle is involved in criminal activity. To justify a patdown of the driver or a passenger during a traffic stop, however, the police must harbor reasonable suspicion that the person subjected to the frisk is armed and dangerous.

Greenlaw v. U.S. (2008)

Topic: Death Penalty & Criminal Sentencing

Without an appeal or cross-appeal by the prosecution, a federal appellate court cannot order an increase in the sentence of a defendant on its own initiative.

Taylor v. Sturgell (2008)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

The rule against non-party preclusion is subject to six categories of exceptions: when a party agreed to be bound by the determination of issues in an action between others; when there was a pre-existing substantive legal relationship between the person to be bound and a party to the judgment; when the non-party was adequately represented by someone with the same interests who was a party to the earlier action; when the non-party assumed control over the litigation in which the judgment was rendered; when a party bound by a judgment tries to relitigate through a proxy; and when a special statutory scheme consistent with due process expressly forecloses successive litigation by non-litigants.

City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York (2005)

Topic: Property Rights & Land Use

When a tribe had relinquished governmental reins over an area long before, it could not regain them through open-market purchases from current titleholders.

Pennsylvania State Police v. Suders (2004)

Topic: Labor & Employment

A plaintiff alleging sexual harassment can establish constructive discharge if they can show that the abusive working environment became so intolerable that their resignation qualified as a fitting response. An employer may assert the Faragher affirmative defense unless the plaintiff quit in reasonable response to an adverse action officially changing their employment status or situation.

Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation v. EPA (2004)

Topic: Climate Change & Environment

The Clean Air Act authorizes the EPA to stop the construction of a major pollutant-emitting facility permitted by a state authority when the EPA finds that an authority's BACT (best available control technology) determination was unreasonable.

Florida v. J.L. (2000)

Topic: Search & Seizure

An anonymous tip that a person is carrying a gun is not, without more, sufficient to justify a police officer's stop and frisk of that person.

U.S. v. Virginia (1996)

Topic: Equal Protection

Parties who seek to defend gender-based government action must demonstrate an exceedingly persuasive justification for that action. The justification must be genuine and must not rely on overly broad generalizations about the different talents, capacities, or preferences of males and females.