NEWARK, NJ - Long before she became a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg spent nearly a decade in Newark as a professor at the School of Law–Newark, now Rutgers Law School.
Ginsburg, 87, who died Friday after a battle with pancreatic cancer, worked at the law school from 1963 to 1972, a period when it was at the forefront of the social justice movement.
Ginsberg had graduated from Columbia Law School in 1959 at the top of her class, but couldn't get a job at any of the white shoe law firms that typically hired top graduates of Ivy League law schools. She landed a clerkship with U.S. District Court Judge Edmund L. Palmieri in the Southern District of New York.
After a short stint as associate director of the Columbia Law School Project on International Procedure, she arrived in Newark, one of only two women on the faculty. At the time, the law school was known as “People’s Electric Law School" because its counterculture values and progressive social agenda, according to a Rutgers University history.
Because the tuition was so affordable, the law school attracted a diverse student body. In 1971, 40% of the students entering the school were women, the second highest in the nation, according to Rutgers.
It was at Rutgers that Ginsburg developed her interest in women's issue. A group of students had asked her to lead a seminar on women and the law. In preparing for the class, Ginsburg, "quickly learned there wasn’t much to study on the subject—and in fact, there was a large gap in the law on gender equality," according to Rutgers. "That request from her students began Ginsburg’s journey to becoming a pioneer in women’s legal rights."
“Rutgers students sparked my interest and aided in charting the course I then pursued,” Ginsburg said in a short film, Our Revolutionary Spirit, made for Rutgers’ 250th anniversary. “Less than three years after starting the seminar, I was arguing gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court.”
After leaving Rutgers, Ginsberg joined the faculty at Columbia Law School, becoming the first female tenured professor at the school.
At the same time, she became an appellate litigator who shaped much of the feminist legal agenda of the 1970s, a decade when many landmark sex discrimination cases came before the Supreme Court, according to Bloomberg Law.
During that period, she she was instrumental in launching the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, and served as the ACLU’s General Counsel from 1973–1980, and on the National Board of Directors from 1974–1980.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed Ginsburg to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She served in that position until she was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the U.S Supreme Court in 1993 to fill the seat held by Justice Byron White.
"Ruth Bader Ginsburg cannot be called a liberal or a conservative," Clinton said in nominating her. "She has proved herself too thoughtful for such labels.” Ginsburg was unanimously endorsed by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate approved her by a 96-3 vote. She became only the second woman to serve on the high court.
In recent years, Ginsburg has become a cultural pop icon, taking the moniker Notorious RBG, named after 1990s rapper Notorious BIG. An Instagram page with the same name has more than 51,000 followers.