Sunday, June 02, 2019

Ascent of a Dissenter! Dissenter on the Bench: Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Life & Work by Victoria Ortiz

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born Joan Ruth Bader in 1933, a few days after Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn in. This year was the worst of the Great Depression. Shortly before Ruth was born, Adolf Hitler had been appointed the German chancellor of the Third Reich, ushering in the horrors of Nazism. A week after her birth, the first concentration camp in German was established at Dachau. The Baders' Flatbush neighborhood was lively, with Italian, Irish, and Jewish families living and working and playing side by side.

In some ways it was the worst of times in the world, and yet the best of times for "the notorious RGB" to have been born. Despite the frightening world of atrocities and world war, little Ruth was fortunate in her home, particularly her mother who wanted much and expected much of her daughter and ...
Ruth was everything her mother wanted her to be.

Ruth was taken to the public library, concerts and the opera, learned to play the cello, made nearly perfect grades, and earned a scholarship to Cornell, where the pretty freshman from Flatbush met her future husband, Marty Ginsburg. Along with her ability to get by on very little sleep, Marty was one of the keys to Ruth's later success in the law, helping raise two children in an early example of gender equality. Despite encountering gender discrimination herself at her job and as a law student, Bader still graduated with honors from Columbia Law School and earned a coveted position as law clerk to District Court Judge Edward Palmieri and became especially absorbed in the area of individual rights as established in the Bill of Rights and in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. And as lawyer and later judge and justice, she took on some of the major civil rights cases of the time.

Along with Ruth Bader Ginsburg's own personal history, author Victoria Ortiz's Dissenter on the Bench: Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Life and Work (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Clarion, 2019) intersperses the stories behind some of the important cases of her career--cases involving unreasonable search and seizure, a strip-search for a honor-roll middle-school student on the word of another student; a gender equality case in which a man had been denied a tax deduction for home-care for his elderly parents allowed only for women and one in which a surviving male parent was denied surviving spouse benefits under Social Security; the Lilly Ledbetter case for equal pay for equal work; and the famous Frontiero case in which Ginsburg advocated for equal benefits rights for pay women in the military. "Women's rights are human rights," was her belief.

But in addition to her exposition of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's stellar legal career, Ortiz's accounts also includes some intimate looks at the personal life of the "notorious RBG," her friendship with ultra conservative Justice Scalia based on their mutual love for opera, her speaking role in the opera "The Daughter of the Regiment" at the Washington National Opera, her gourmet-cook husband Marty's popularity with the other justices' wives at their monthly spouse potlucks, and RBG's devotion to physical training and travel. With plenty of professional and family photos and a solid appendix containing a copy of the Bill of Rights, her often prescient dissenting opinions--from Bush v. Gore to Citizens United v. FEC, to Burwell v. Hobby Lobby--chapter notes, bibliography, and a detailed index, this slim and highly readable biography of a one-of-a-kind SCOTUS justice should be a first purchase for public and school libraries.

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