On the Basis of Sex: Where will the first step take you?

November 15 2019 | Committees


Earlier this year, I attended a screening of On the Basis Sex hosted by the Women in the Profession committee. The film depicted young lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg as she navigated both family life and career, and one of her many groundbreaking challenges to gender discrimination before the United States Supreme Court. In recent years, Justice Ginsburg, the second of only four women to be confirmed to the United States Supreme Court, has become a pop culture icon known for her fiery liberal dissents. Justice Ginsburg has even gained the moniker “the Notorious RBG,” a nod to the rapper The Notorious B.I.G. with whom she shares humble Brooklyn beginnings. 

For a young lawyer contemplating her career trajectory, it may be daunting to not only envision an end goal--the mark you will leave on the profession--but to also envision a path to reach that goal. While Justice Ginsburg, the little lady with the big glasses, has left an indelible mark Constitutional law and the legal profession, her career started with small steps, not giant leaps. 


Justice Ginsberg’s parents instilled in her a love of learning, caring for people, and the importance of working for what she believed in.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg attended Harvard Law School where she was one of nine women students. While balancing motherhood and caring for her husband during his battle with cancer, Ruther Bader Ginsburg earned a spot on the law review. Despite her law school success, no firm would hire her because she was a woman. Instead, Ruth Bader Ginsburg secured judicial clerkships and law school professorships. Having faced gender-based barriers and impediments, it seemed fit that she went on to challenge such discrimination before the nation’s highest court. Ruth Bader Ginsburg realized that real change-- enduring change--happens one step at a time.  In Craig v. Boren, 429 US 190 (1976), a case in which Ginsberg authored an amicus brief, the U.S. Supreme Court established a new standard of judicial review, intermediate scrutiny, for laws with gender-based classifications. 


Justice Ginsberg’s childhood friends praise her as a deep thinker with quiet magnetism. She began her career as a lawyer with a goal of doing something to make society a better place and views her role as keeping the country in tune with its most basic values. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s work as a lawyer and Supreme Court Justice serves as a reminder that no task is too small, and to pursue such tasks with passion. 




Written by: Kristen Lee
on behald of NOBA's Women in the Profession Committee

Contact Information:
4th Circuit Court of Appeal
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