Cover image for Ruth Bader Ginsburg : a life
Ruth Bader Ginsburg : a life
De Hart, Jane Sherron.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Physical Description:
xviii, 723 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
"The life and legal career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg"-- Provided by publisher.
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Material Type
Corning - Southeast Steuben County Library 1 B GINSBURG New NonFiction Book
Horseheads Free Library 1 B GINSBURG New NonFiction Book

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The first full life--private, public, legal, philosophical--of the 107th Supreme Court Justice, one of the most profound and profoundly transformative legal minds of our time; a book fifteen years in work, written with the cooperation of Ruth Bader Ginsburg herself and based on many interviews with the justice, her husband, her children, her friends, and her associates.

In this large, comprehensive, revelatory biography, Jane De Hart explores the central experiences that crucially shaped Ginsburg's passion for justice, her advocacy for gender equality, her meticulous jurisprudence: her desire to make We the People more united and our union more perfect. At the heart of her story and abiding beliefs--her Jewish background. Tikkun olam , the Hebrew injunction to "repair the world," with its profound meaning for a young girl who grew up during the Holocaust and World War II. We see the influence of her mother, Celia Amster Bader, whose intellect inspired her daughter's feminism, insisting that Ruth become independent, as she witnessed her mother coping with terminal cervical cancer (Celia died the day before Ruth, at seventeen, graduated from high school).
From Ruth's days as a baton twirler at Brooklyn's James Madison High School, to Cornell University, Harvard and Columbia Law Schools (first in her class), to being a law professor at Rutgers University (one of the few women in the field and fighting pay discrimination), hiding her second pregnancy so as not to risk losing her job; founding the Women's Rights Law Reporter , writing the brief for the first case that persuaded the Supreme Court to strike down a sex-discriminatory state law, then at Columbia (the law school's first tenured female professor); becoming the director of the women's rights project of the ACLU, persuading the Supreme Court in a series of decisions to ban laws that denied women full citizenship status with men.
Her years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, deciding cases the way she played golf, as she, left-handed, played with right-handed clubs--aiming left, swinging right, hitting down the middle. Her years on the Supreme Court . . .
A pioneering life and legal career whose profound mark on American jurisprudence, on American society, on our American character and spirit, will reverberate deep into the twenty-first century and beyond.

Author Notes

JANE SHERRON DE HART is professor emerita of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She lives in Santa Barbara, California.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* It's always daunting to tackle the biography of a living person, let alone an active, recognized expert in her field; and a cultural icon who's the subject of a popular documentary film and an upcoming biopic. And yet, University of California history professor de Hart dynamically devotes more than 500 pages to the amazing life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, detailing her accomplishments (so far) and the influences that have shaped her interpretation of constitutional law. The text aptly describes Ginsburg's increasing legal expertise, using court cases to illustrate her keen grasp of legal argumentation, whether wielded as law clerk, expert on gender equality, U.S. Appeals Court judge, or Supreme Court justice. De Hart documents the omnipresent prejudice and male chauvinism Ginsburg encountered, suggesting that these experiences helped cement Ginsburg's commitment to equal rights and fair treatment under the law for everyone. Telling anecdotes skillfully illuminate Ginsburg's devotion to her family and her wonderfully supportive late husband, her long-standing friendships with an array of public figures, her love of opera, and her humorous wit. This extensively documented account, incorporating more than 100 pages of chapter notes and a bibliography that cites hundreds of resources, is also quite engaging and very easy to read. Expect plenty of interest.--Kathleen McBroom Copyright 2018 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

De Hart, a professor emerita of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, offers a laudatory biography of Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. De Hart, who had Ginsburg's cooperation, pays appropriate attention both to the experiences that informed Ginsburg's passion for justice and to her personal life, highlighting her lifelong love affair with her husband and her friendships with professional colleagues, including her ideological opposite Antonin Scalia. De Hart's great strength is her ability to explain Ginsburg's cases and the legal strategies she employed, for example, to convince the Supreme Court to apply the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution to strike down laws that discriminate on the basis of gender. De Hart clearly and accessibly lays out background information, the various legal theories employed, and the judges' holdings. She also demonstrates Ginsburg's far-reaching influence as the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court, in 1993, taking readers into the inner workings of the court as Ginsburg and other justices war over the defining legal and cultural issues of the era-abortion rights, marriage equality, race, and religion. Readers will find this an insightful, fascinating, and admiring biography of one of America's most extraordinary jurists. (Oct.) c Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Fifteen years in the making, this meticulously researched, comprehensive volume is the first full biography of Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Ruth Bader -Ginsburg (b. 1933). Based on court decisions and interviews with family and friends as well as conversations with Ginsburg herself, De Hart (emerita, history, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; coauthor, Women's America) outlines the forces that shaped the justice's life and jurisprudence. These include the feminist influence of her mother and the impact of her Jewish heritage. Ginsburg's career is skillfully placed within the context of American social and political history from the 1930s to the present. Detailing each step of Ginsburg's career and providing a sophisticated analysis of the justice's thinking on constitutional change, reproductive rights, gender equality, and affirmative action, the author documents the difficulties women have faced in achieving gender equality, the influence of progressive social movements, and the changing dynamics of the Court. With its discussion of both the 2016 presidential race and the accession of Neil Gorsuch to the Court, the book is especially timely. VERDICT For informed readers interested in contemporary American politics as well as women's rights and biographies on influential women. [See Prepub Alert, 4/23/18.]-Marie M. Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter 1 Celia's Daughter   June 27, 1950, should have been a day of triumph for an ambitious young girl just turned seventeen--the culmination of four years of outstanding academic achievement. It was graduation day at Brook­lyn's James Madison High School. Ruth Bader had been chosen as just one of four students to speak for her eight hundred classmates. Instead, it was a day of wrenching grief. Two days before, Ruth's mother, Celia, had succumbed to cancer after a four-year struggle. Ruth knew her mother had been waging a los­ing battle. Watching the physical deterioration of the parent who repre­sented nurture and security, along with her father's silent grief, had been anguishing for the sensitive adolescent. Yet with Celia's encouragement, she won prestigious college scholarships, played in the school orchestra, and cheered on the football team as a baton twirler--never once reveal­ing to her schoolmates the illness that shadowed the Bader household in Flatbush. By the end of summer, the ground floor of the modest gray stucco house at 1584 East Ninth Street stood vacant, a symbol of loss and abandonment following her mother's death and her father's emotional and economic collapse. *** Celia Bader gave birth to her second daughter, Joan Ruth, on March 15, 1933, at Beth Moses Hospital in the borough of Brooklyn in New York City. (Ruth's first name was dropped in kindergarten when there proved to be too many other children who answered to Joan.) The Baders brought the infant back to their apartment in Belle Harbor, a town near the ocean in the borough of Queens, just as they had her older sister, Marilyn. The new baby, energetic from the start, kicked so much that Marilyn promptly dubbed her "Kiki." The name stuck. The boroughs, like the rest of the country in 1933, faced an unprec­edented economic depression. Factories lay idle. Construction had come to a standstill. The banking system had crumbled, wiping out the hard-earned savings of millions. One wage earner in four was laid off, and according to the U.S. Children's Bureau one out of five children was not getting enough to eat. As tax revenues dried up, teachers went unpaid. In other parts of the country, schools simply closed their doors. In the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, jobless men put up makeshift shacks of junked Fords and old barrels at the city dump dubbed "Hoovervilles" in derisive reference to President Herbert Hoover's economic policies. Nathan Bader, Ruth's father, was no stranger to hard times. He had begun his own struggle to earn a living shortly after his arrival in New York as a shy thirteen-year-old Russian Jew from a town near Odessa. Denied admission to schools in the Old World because of anti-Semitism, he had attended only Hebrew school. His mother tongue was Yiddish until he learned English at night school in his new homeland. Nathan worked in his father's business, Samuel Bader and Sons, which special­ized in inexpensive furs. By the 1920s, he felt financially secure enough to marry Celia Amster. Celia, who arrived in New York City while still in her mother's womb, had been conceived in a little town near what is now Cracow, Poland. Growing up in a Yiddish-speaking household in Manhattan's Lower East Side, the primal homeland for immigrant Jews, she developed a passion for reading. Indeed, she so often walked down the bustling, crowded streets with her head buried in a book that on one occasion she tripped and broke her nose. Her father, recognizing that she was the most intel­ligent of his three daughters, had enlisted her help with his bills, which she wrote out in a mixture of English and Yiddish: for example, "one cabinet, gefixed" (repaired). Though eager to continue her education, Celia had to settle for a commercial emphasis in her course work at Julia Richman High School, a massive brick building on East Sixty-Seventh Street. At least the train­ing would spare her the fate of her older sister, Sadie, who worked in a sweatshop until marriage. Upon graduating at the age of fifteen, Celia found a job as a bookkeeper and secretary for a fur maker in the bustling, densely packed garment district, a roughly rectangular area of Manhat­tan ringed by West Thirty-Fifth and Forty-Second Streets and Seventh and Ninth Avenues, where a largely Eastern European workforce fueled the trade. The position allowed her to develop a familiarity with the industry, capitalizing on her innate business instincts and her ability to shrewdly assess people. The personable and highly intelligent young woman had just the qualities that the shy, sentimental Nathan instinctively sought in a wife. Celia, according to her daughter, would always be the stronger partner in their new household, advising her husband on his business as well as other matters. After marriage, the couple joined the Belle Harbor syna­gogue. In 1927, two years before the stock market crash, Celia gave birth to their first child, Marilyn Elsa. *** The downward economic spiral after Black Thursday in October 1929 prompted many young couples like the Baders to delay having more children. But in the fall of 1932, a new baby was on the way. Three years later, economic recovery remained elusive. Despite the Roosevelt administration's many initiatives, the country remained mired in pov­erty and despair. The Baders were spared the worst hardships; however, in 1934, they faced a different kind of loss. Six-year-old Marilyn was fatally stricken with spinal meningitis. Though Kiki was too young to remember her sister, she later recalled how deeply her parents mourned Marilyn's death. Every month, in the cold of winter or the heat of sum­mer, they trudged to the cemetery. On the anniversary of Marilyn's death, they went to the synagogue to recite the Kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayer of mourning. Marilyn's picture continued to hang over the headboard of the Baders' bed, making her a looming presence through­out Kiki's childhood. There is no way to measure the impact of parental grief on their surviving daughter or to know whether it contributed to her preternatural seriousness. Ruth herself, however, later remarked that she grew up with the very "smell of death," alluding to the cloud her sister's passing cast over the Bader household. Hoping to ease the pain with new surroundings, Nathan and Celia moved to Brooklyn, though the neighborhood was less desirable than the one left behind in Belle Harbor. They soon discovered that sustain­ing a separate apartment even in Flatbush was economically impossible. Because Nathan's brother Benjamin had married Celia's younger sister, Bernice (Buddy), the Bader brothers and their wives decided to share the downstairs of a two-family house in Flatbush until they could afford to live in separate houses on East Ninth Street. Though the move to Flatbush was primarily initiated as a response to grief, it eventually turned out to be fortuitous. Flatbush was one of Brooklyn's six original colonial towns. Over the years, it had been trans­formed into a semi-urban area with a Jewish population that by 1930 was rapidly approaching the million mark, the largest concentration of urban Jews in the world. Yet the Jewish community was anything but homogeneous. Groups differed in culture, wealth, and religious affili­ation as well as in origin--Western European, Eastern European, and Middle Eastern. Brooklyn's Syrian Sephardic Jews--a minority within a minority--maintained their traditional ways and food preferences as well as their Arabic language. In contrast, the many Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews tried hard to assimilate. After achieving some modest economic success, most moved out from the Lower East Side and from more crowded Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Browns­ville to escape the congestion and shabbiness along with the weight of old-world strictures. If not quite the suburbs, the move brought more grass and open space. As a sign of their newfound freedom, Jews of Nathan and Celia's generation often strayed from Orthodox Judaism with all its rules and rituals. Many chose to forgo Sabbath services, leaving Brooklyn's houses of worship half-empty on Saturday mornings. Sloughing off vestiges of their cultural and ethnic distinctiveness, they took pride in their "Americanness"--their ability to speak English, to wear American clothes, to have an education beyond the Talmud, and to escape the historical cycle that had locked even the most ambitious sons into the ghetto. Yet at the same time, even those who were secular clung to cherished parts of their tradition--lighting candles for Friday dinner, keeping kosher kitchens while their children were young or eating only kosher meat and poultry, and observing the more important religious holidays, notably the high holy days from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kip­pur. Those needing a synagogue for the holy days had plenty of choices; more than half of all the synagogues in New York City had a Brooklyn address. Some in the community relished the sense of belonging that came from hearing a Yiddish radio station playing popular dramas such as Bei tate-mames tish (Round the family table) or musical programs like Yiddish Melodies in Swing --though not Celia, who saw Yiddish as the language of the Old World. Instead, the Bader family listened to The Goldbergs, a weekly comedy-drama created by the talented writer and actress Gertrude Berg. Playing the warmhearted Bronx matriarch Molly Goldberg, Berg guided her radio family and neighbors through the challenges of assimilating and simultaneously maintaining their roots as Jews while coping with the travails of the Great Depression and World War II. Mrs. Goldberg was an "amalgam of Jewish aunts, [mothers], and grandmothers," Kiki later recalled. However, she hastened to point out that her own mother "did not yell out of the window" in their working-class neighborhood, as did Molly Goldberg. Flatbush in the 1930s and 1940s was home not only to Jews but also to Italians, Irish, and a smattering of Poles who lived on the same tree-lined streets, abutting busy Coney Island Avenue and Kings Highway. Each ethnic group was secure in its own identity, but that did not negate tensions among them. Anti-Semitism in the immediate neighborhood of East Ninth Street was not a major problem, although it certainly existed. Two elderly Catholic women living on the same block as the Baders clung to the belief that if a Jew came into the house, especially for lunch, it would bring bad luck--a superstition they transmitted to the boys for whom they served as foster parents. Other children on the street repeated stories that matzo was made from the blood of Christian boys and called Kiki and her Jewish friends "kikes." Nonetheless, a measure of tolerance prevailed in the neighborhood of modest homes and apartments. Both homes and streets served as children's playgrounds for games of "red light, green light," giant steps, jump rope, jacks, and marbles. Before and after games, youngsters and especially their teenage siblings, gathered in nearby candy stores and soda shops to spend their twenty-five-cent weekly allowances on Cokes, egg creams, comic books, movie magazines, and an occasional newspaper. What bound the citizens of Flatbush together was a sense of neigh­borhood solidarity and an intense yearning to be solidly middle class. Even if the Great Depression had thwarted their own youthful dreams, they could transfer hopes and aspirations to their children. Weathering the strains of the worst economic crisis the country had ever experienced, they nurtured a disproportionate share of the twentieth century's most distinguished citizens--many of them Jews. George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Alfred Kazin, Norman Mailer, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Beverly Sills, Barbra Streisand, Milton Friedman, and Sandy Koufax would become household names. So would that of Nathan and Celia Bader's daughter. Excerpted from Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life by Jane Sherron de Hart All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Preface: An American Iconp. ix
Part I Becoming Ruth
1 Celia's Daughterp. 3
2 Cornell and Martyp. 30
3 Learning the Law on Male Turfp. 55
4 Sailing in "Uncharted Waters"p. 78
5 The Making of a Feminist Advocatep. 104
6 Seizing the Momentp. 123
Part II Mounting a Campaign
7 A First Breakthroughp. 147
8 Setting Up Shop and Strategyp. 160
Part III Learning Under Fire
9 "The Case That Got Away"p. 179
10 A "Near Great Leap Forward"p. 197
11 Coping with a Setbackp. 218
Part IV Moving Forward
12 Getting Back on Trackp. 233
13 Moving Forward on Shifting Political Groundp. 252
Part V Becoming Judge and Justice
14 An Unexpected Cliff-Hangerp. 277
15 The 107th Justicep. 302
16 Mother of the Regimentp. 327
17 "I Cannot Agree"p. 349
Part VI Standing Firm
18 Persevering in Hard Timesp. 377
19 Losing Marty and Leading the Minorityp. 405
20 Race Mattersp. 428
21 The Right Thing to Dop. 450
22 A Hobbled Courtp. 476
23 An Election and a Presidency Like No Otherp. 498
Epilogue: Legacyp. 529
Acknowledgmentsp. 543
Notesp. 547
Bibliographyp. 659
Indexp. 695

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