Doing Justice to the Justice

Three books - two recent, one upcoming - offer varying and engaging accounts of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life and legacy.

In her ninth decade of life and her twentieth year on the Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become a pop culture star, inspiring Halloween costumes, greeting cards, a character on the Cartoon Network and even tattoos. But unlike the celebrities whose fame waxes and wanes (who cares about Paris Hilton anymore?), Justice Ginsburg’s revolutionary work fighting gender discrimination has earned her the title “Thurgood Marshall of the women’s movement,” and secured her a permanent place in U.S. history.

A perfect gift for the littlest feminists in your life, I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark (release date Sept. 20, 2016), is a biographical picture book that's short on narrative and long on charm. Written by Debbie Levy (a former attorney) and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley, it tells the justice’s story through the lens of her many famous dissents, showing young readers that disagreeing does not make you disagreeable.

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 Courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon, a national reporter at MSNBC, and attorney Shana Knizhnik, creator of the blog Notorious R.B.G. Tumblr, is substantive, yet breezy in tone. The authors combine absorbing narrative and rare archival photos and documents to capture Ginsburg’s unique story and personality—including the women’s rights cases she argued, the unique equality of her loving marriage to husband Marty Ginsburg, and even the neckwear she adorns depending whether she’s delivering a minority or majority opinion.

In Sisters in Law, attorney and cultural historian Linda Hirshman’s informative and highly readable new book, she tells Ginsburg’s story in tandem with that of Sandra Day O’Connor showing how the two justices helped set precedents in cases dealing with an array of issues critical to women’s lives including employment discrimination, abortion, affirmative action and sexual harassment. Weaving anecdotes and biographical details (Ginsburg, we learn, in addition to being an excellent student, learned baton twirling and was a high school cheerleader!) with legal history, she shows how these two women, though of different parties, dispositions and backgrounds, worked to make women equal before the law.

One of the most moving pieces of Ginsburg’s story is the role her mother played in her daughter’s education: Though she herself couldn’t go to college (she had to go to work at age 15 to help send her brother to college), Celia Bader “had managed to squirrel some money away for her daughter, who knew she was valued as much as a son.” Bader died of cervical cancer the day before her daughter’s high school graduation. With that money and lots of scholarship help Ginsburg went on to Cornell. Many years later, as Ginsburg accepted the nomination to the High Court, she thanked her mother, “the bravest and strongest person I have known.”(Dey St.-William Morrow, Harper)