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5 Lessons From Late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The iconic and pioneering jurist left behind a lifetime of wisdom.


This piece originally ran in 2018 on the occasion of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's 85th birthday. In light of her passing last weekend at the age of 87, we have decided to update and republish the article in recognition of her decades of groundbreaking accomplishments. 

Michael Kovac | Getty Images

If you want tips about staying power, look no further than the life and career of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The second female justice to preside over the United States Supreme Court, she was nominated and confirmed for the job in 1993, 204 years into the judicial body’s existence. But long before Ginsburg joined the highest court in the land, she was a determined lawyer, fighting for women’s rights.

Read on for five lessons from Justice Ginsburg.

Don’t be afraid to get out in front of causes that are meaningful to you
Ginsburg was a dogged advocate for women’s rights, especially after the uphill battle she experienced while getting her own education and starting her career. After graduating from the top of her class at Cornell, she was one of nine women in her class at Harvard Law School in 1956. While at Harvard, she simultaneously was raising her 14-month-old daughter while dealing with a sexist dean who actually asked her how she could “justify taking a spot from a qualified man?”

After she graduated from Columbia — where she had transferred from Harvard — she was rejected from the first 14 law firms she applied to because she was a woman. But she kept going. In 1970, Ginsburg founded Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the first law review in the United States dedicated to legal issues around women’s rights. Two years later, Ginsburg founded the ACLU Women's Rights Project.

Related: 7 Ways Women Leaders Can Win at Negotiating

Stretch yourself to achieve your goals
Ginsburg is nothing if not determined. Back in the '60s, she casually learned Swedish in order to co-author Civil Procedure in Sweden. The justice’s workout routine is famous for its consistency and rigor. Ginsburg hits the gym with her trainer every day and puts herself through the paces, with machine pulldowns, medicine ball push-ups and wall squats. Not even a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer could slow Ginsburg down. Nine years after beating the disease she has no plans to retire any time soon.

Find a partner that supports you, and vice versa
Ginsburg was married to her husband, Martin, for 56 years until his death from cancer in 2010. For many years, after the retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor, Marty, as he was called, was often the only man in the group of Supreme Court spouses, but he was famously unfazed by it. Ginsburg called him her best friend, and when asked by Katie Couric why their marriage was so successful, she had this to say: "You can't have it all, all at once. Who — man or woman — has it all, all at once? Over my life span I think I have had it all. But in different periods of time things were rough. And if you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it."

Related: 50 Motivational Quotes From Disruptive, Trailblazing, Inspiring Women Leaders

Pay it forward
From her position on the bench of the highest court in the land, Ginsburg continues to fight for women’s rights — especially in her own workplace. Case in point, Ginsburg had this to say about the demographic breakdown of the court during a 2015 talk at Georgetown: "People ask me sometimes, 'When do you think it will be enough? When will there be enough women on the court?' And my answer is when there are nine."

Leave the world a better place than it was when you found it
When asked by Irin Carmon what Ginsburg would like to be remembered for, her answer was simple. “Someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has. To do something, as my colleague David Souter would say, outside myself. ‘Cause I’ve gotten much more satisfaction for the things that I’ve done for which I was not paid.”

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