10 things you didn't know about the 'Notorious RBG'

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- the 85-year-old liberal legal icon -- has spent 25 years on the Supreme Court...

Posted: Aug 10, 2018 3:00 PM
Updated: Aug 10, 2018 3:00 PM

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- the 85-year-old liberal legal icon -- has spent 25 years on the Supreme Court and says she plans on staying put for at least five more.

But while most know of her work, far fewer know about her backstory.

Books and reading

Females (demographic group)

Government and public administration

Government bodies and offices

Leisure and lifestyle

Political Figures - US

Politics

Population and demographics

Sandra Day O'Connor

Society

US federal court system

US federal government

US Supreme Court

Demographic groups

Government organizations - US

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Law and legal system

Law courts and tribunals

During her tenure on the high court, Ginsburg has become an unlikely star who has inspired operas, tattoos, T-shirts and millions of young women who never knew that the law was once reserved for male lawyers. In 2016, these fans got a glimpse of a more personal side of the Justice when she published a book called "My Own Words," a compilation of a lifetime of Ginsburg's writings and speeches.

Here are 10 highlights that reveal the woman behind the bench:

A Nancy Drew-loving "twirler"

"Kiki" Bader grew up in a working-class neighborhood in New York where she learned the cello and was a "twirler," performing with her baton at football games and even in a Manhattan parade. She was heavily influenced by a mother who always wished she could have furthered her own education. Celia Bader's advice? "Be a lady" which meant, in part, that one wasn't to let emotions like anger or envy get in her way, and "be independent."

The young Ginsburg spent Friday afternoons at the library, housed between a Chinese restaurant and a beauty parlor, reading Nancy Drew. According to Ginsburg: "Nancy was a girl who did things. She was adventuresome, daring and her boyfriend was a much more passive type than she was."

An unlikely mentor

She credits her Cornell college professor, Vladimir Nabokov, the writer known for the novel "Lolita," with improving her writing skills. According to Ginsburg, she took Nabokov's advice to use words "to paint pictures."

In the book she tells her biographers, "I try to give people the picture in not too many words, and I strive to find the right words."

Nabokov's advice was evident when Ginsburg joined an opinion of the court to strike down a Texas abortion law in 2016. In a brief two-page concurrence -- laced with a flourish of French -- Ginsburg got right to the point: "When a state severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners, faute de mieux, at great risk to their health and safety."

Partner in life

Ginsburg's more than half-century marriage to noted tax expert Martin "Marty" Ginsburg, who died in 2010, was one of Washington's most legendary pairings.

Besides his legal expertise, he often told audiences that he took over the kitchen at the demand of their two children who recoiled at the idea of their mother's pot roast. The book includes a 2003 speech Marty gave summing up their marriage. The two were attending a play in New York just after the release of Bush v. Gore, the controversial opinion that cleared the way for George W. Bush's presidency.

As they walked down the aisle at intermission, the entire audience began to applaud and Ginsburg "beamed." Marty reveals that he leaned over and whispered to his wife, "I bet you didn't know there's a convention of tax lawyers in town," at which point he writes, "without changing her bright smile, Ruth smacked me right in the stomach, but not too hard."

Pathmaker: The Stephen Wiesenfeld case

As a young lawyer, she blazed trails to fight laws that discriminated on the basis of gender. Ginsburg, a keen tactician, knew that it would be particularly powerful if she could show that gender discrimination hurt men as well as women. As such, she represented Stephen Wiesenfeld, who fought a provision of the Social Security Act after his wife died in childbirth. As Ginsburg explained it in 2008: Wiesenfeld "sought to care for the baby personally, but was denied child-in-care Social Security benefits then available only to widowed mothers, not to widowed fathers. Stephen Wiesenfield won a unanimous judgment in the Supreme Court."

Supreme Court nomination

President Bill Clinton waited until after an NBA Finals basketball game to call Ginsburg to offer her the job on the high court in 1993. But the phone line, from the White House kitchen, went dead three times. Finally, Clinton got it right. "If I'm going to propose," he joked to Ginsburg, "we might as well have a good line."

One would think the first time that Justice Elena Kagan and Ginsburg shared a hearing room it would have been at the Supreme Court after Kagan was seated in 2010. Not so. Ginsburg reveals that during her confirmation hearing in 1993, she stared up at then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden. Sitting behind him was Kagan, who was serving as special counsel to Biden during the hearings.

Sandra Day O'Connor

In a 2015 speech, Ginsburg praised Sandra Day O'Connor as a "true cowgirl, resourceful, resilient, equipped to cope with whatever fortune brings her way." She spoke of the time the "incomparable" O'Connor invited the Olympic women's basketball team to the Supreme Court's basketball court that is often referred to as the "highest court in the land."

One of the players passed O'Connor the ball, and she missed the first shot, "but the second went right through the hoop."

Early writings on faith

Ginsburg's biographers reveal that while her immediate family was not "devoutly religious," Jewish traditions were very much a part of her childhood even though at times she resented an adherence to "seemingly hypocritical rules and the inferior role assigned to women."

She did, however, respect Rabbi Stephen S. Wise. In 1946, a 13-year-old Ruth Bader served on the editorial staff of the bulletin of the East Midwood Jewish Center, where she wrote in praise of Wise, calling him a "champion of every righteous cause," adding that he was a "valiant fighter" for women's suffrage.

Ginsburg the jock

She may appear frail, sitting on the bench in her robe and frilly lace collars. Not so. The book "My Own Words" includes a picture of her on the elliptical sporting a "Super Diva" sweatshirt. It seems she has slowed down a bit: A few years ago, she did 30 push-ups twice a week and now she is down to a mere 20. Still, that might be 20 more than some of her colleagues on the bench would be able to achieve. She told The New York Times in 2013 that she's had to give up one passion: waterskiing.

Cultural rock star -- and a fish

There's an opera, a play, a documentary, a "Saturday Night Live" skit and an upcoming movie starring Felicity Jones.

But that's just the beginning:

The preschool class at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas, named their class fish "Ruth Beta Ginsburg." And scientists named an entire species of praying mantis, Ilomantis ginsburgae, in honor of Ginsburg. (Apparently the species' neck plate resembles the jabots Ginsburg wears in court.)

Asked when she thinks there will be enough women on the court, she answers: "when there are nine."

Retirement speculation

Ginsburg mentions little about her own retirement in her book, but she has already hired law clerks for at least two more terms.

Ginsburg's biographers, whom she worked with for "My Own Words," say that the quality of her reasoning, her mental acuity, her stamina and her public engagement mean that "there is no question that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg continues to 'do the job full steam.'"

Terre Haute
Overcast
35° wxIcon
Hi: 37° Lo: 24°
Feels Like: 26°
Robinson
Overcast
34° wxIcon
Hi: 34° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: 24°
Indianapolis
Overcast
31° wxIcon
Hi: 32° Lo: 26°
Feels Like: 17°
Rockville
Overcast
30° wxIcon
Hi: 35° Lo: 24°
Feels Like: 17°
Casey
Overcast
33° wxIcon
Hi: 34° Lo: 23°
Feels Like: 21°
Brazil
Overcast
35° wxIcon
Hi: 35° Lo: 23°
Feels Like: 26°
Marshall
Overcast
35° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 23°
Feels Like: 26°
Cloudy, chance of evening showers.
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

Latest Video

Image

Monday Afternoon Weather

Image

All You Need to Know for Monday

Image

Monday: Rain/snow mix, windy, chilly. High: 36°

Image

Sunday Evening Forecast

Image

Scam Alert: Fake vaccine trials

Image

Bridgeton Country Christmas continues

Image

Safety rules in place at local tree farm

Image

Police search for attempted armed robber

Image

$5,000 grant supports trail project

Image

Winter Precipitation Explainer

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 720114

Reported Deaths: 12882
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook3042206595
DuPage45087788
Will38684563
Lake37299631
Kane31767467
Winnebago18948262
Madison14379255
McHenry14269156
St. Clair13410259
Champaign1079858
Sangamon1015799
Peoria9147133
Kankakee8636103
Rock Island8612135
McLean848954
Tazewell6835104
Macon6517132
Kendall626947
LaSalle6108134
DeKalb499047
Adams473548
Vermilion391551
Boone390733
Whiteside3743115
Williamson361083
Clinton330861
Coles329859
Ogle285037
Knox280766
Grundy277618
Effingham277021
Henry270015
Jackson268536
Marion248551
Stephenson246635
Randolph226826
Livingston224527
Macoupin223218
Morgan220936
Bureau211643
Monroe207545
Franklin204825
Lee201034
Christian189443
Jefferson187859
Woodford175827
Fayette170931
Logan170113
Iroquois169326
McDonough158241
Fulton146012
Shelby137426
Douglas135416
Jersey127224
Union118228
Montgomery115519
Crawford112213
Saline111625
Perry110223
Warren109020
Jo Daviess107617
Carroll107024
Lawrence107011
Bond104810
Pike101427
Cass96423
Hancock95612
Wayne90833
Moultrie89810
Clay84020
Greene82831
Edgar80815
Clark79820
Piatt7835
Richland78019
Ford75222
Mercer74510
Mason72120
Johnson7136
Washington7002
Jasper64411
Cumberland61416
White6148
De Witt61317
Massac5993
Wabash5708
Menard4661
Pulaski4132
Marshall4066
Hamilton3873
Brown3224
Henderson2891
Schuyler2711
Stark2683
Alexander2562
Calhoun2470
Putnam2430
Scott2310
Edwards2263
Gallatin1913
Unassigned1850
Hardin1551
Pope1011
Out of IL100

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 333312

Reported Deaths: 5685
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion45371865
Lake28722469
Allen19325304
Elkhart17945235
St. Joseph17599237
Hamilton14061171
Vanderburgh10280127
Tippecanoe920230
Porter873389
Johnson6973170
Hendricks6674158
Vigo637392
Monroe560850
Madison5410122
Clark540478
Delaware5184103
LaPorte492897
Kosciusko480741
Howard379478
Bartholomew347365
Warrick343073
Wayne340985
Floyd334978
Marshall317946
Cass307931
Grant295450
Hancock286957
Noble269347
Henry262837
Boone261955
Dubois249632
Dearborn238231
Jackson235534
Morgan228743
Gibson201229
Shelby199859
Knox196621
DeKalb190234
Clinton189222
Lawrence187949
Wabash181122
Miami176817
Adams176223
Daviess165845
Fayette157634
Steuben156415
Jasper155913
Montgomery154629
Harrison154124
Ripley151521
LaGrange150631
Whitley146815
Huntington140210
Decatur137144
Putnam134828
White134823
Wells134630
Clay132724
Randolph132622
Jefferson131316
Posey127718
Scott118921
Greene109053
Sullivan105016
Jay104414
Jennings97814
Starke96624
Spencer9078
Fulton88619
Perry86421
Fountain8608
Washington8387
Franklin75727
Carroll73713
Orange71828
Vermillion6867
Owen6598
Tipton62727
Parke6226
Rush5918
Newton58812
Blackford57312
Pike54020
Pulaski44215
Benton3843
Martin3826
Brown3705
Crawford3221
Union2862
Switzerland2725
Warren2653
Ohio2437
Unassigned0267