9 Ruth Bader Ginsburg Opinion Quotes That Highlight Her 25 Remarkable Years On The Bench
In the past five years, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has accumulated a sizable following on social media after earning the title "Notorious R.B.G." from a popular Tumblr account. However, Ginsburg's career as a liberal justice and champion of women's rights actually started decades ago, and Friday marks her 25th anniversary serving on the Supreme Court. In her years on the bench, Ginsburg has written some powerful opinions that continue to inspire her supporters on the left, and she intends to stay on the Supreme Court for at least five more years.
In 2000, during the notorious Bush v. Gore Supreme Court case, Ginsburg famously wrote "I dissent" in her opinion, expressing disagreement with the court's decision to favor Bush over Gore. As Teen Vogue pointed out, this was not necessarily in line with court decorum — as justices usually say that they "respectfully" dissent — but this statement reflected much of Ginsburg's time on the bench.
Many of her most famous quotes have come from her dissenting opinions, to the point where CNN remarked that she even has a "classic dissenting collar" to wear over her robe as she prepares to disagree with the majority opinion. Ginsburg frequently makes headlines for her passionate defenses of everything from reproductive health care access to affirmative action, and the quotes below are just a small representation of some of her most powerful moments.
2014: Burwell V. Hobby Lobby
In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the government could not force certain employers like Hobby Lobby to provide their employees with insurance coverage for contraception if doing so conflicted with their religious beliefs. In a searing dissent, Ginsburg suggested that her colleagues in the majority failed to distinguish between religious organizations and corporations like Hobby Lobby:
Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community. Indeed, by law, no religion-based criterion can restrict the work force of for-profit corporations. ... The distinction between a community made up of believers in the same religion and one embracing persons of diverse beliefs, clear as it is, constantly escapes the Court’s attention. One can only wonder why the Court shuts this key difference from sight.
1999: Olmstead V. LC
Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion for this 1999 case, in which the Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 that individuals with disabilities — including mental health conditions — have the right to receive the treatment they need in community-based settings, and should not be isolated in hospitals or other institutional settings against their will. In her opinion, Ginsburg asserted that the state of Georgia had been discriminatory in its treatment of the two women who started the lawsuit, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson:
Specifically, we confront the question whether the proscription of discrimination may require placement of persons with mental disabilities in community settings rather than in institutions. The answer, we hold, is a qualified yes.
2007: Gonzales V. Carhart
The Supreme Court voted 5-4 in this 2007 case to uphold a Bush administration law banning "partial-birth" abortions, a political term for a medical procedure to remove a fetus from a pregnant person's womb. In her dissent, Ginsburg accused the justices in the majority of being "irrational":
The notion that the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act furthers any legitimate governmental interest is, quite simply, irrational ... the Court’s defense of it, cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this Court—and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women’s lives.
2013: Shelby County V. Holder
In 2013, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 to strike down a part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required certain jurisdictions to obtain federal "preclearance" prior to passing any new voting laws. In her dissent, Ginsburg argued that her colleagues were "throwing out preclearance" despite its positive impact because they were not affected by the racial discrimination it attempted to challenge. She also explained why that element of the Voting Rights Act was so important:
Just as buildings in California have a greater need to be earthquake proofed, places where there is greater racial polarization in voting have a greater need for prophylactic measures to prevent purposeful race discrimination.
2016: Whole Woman's Health V. Hellerstedt
In a 5-3 ruling back in 2016 — before Neil Gorsuch replaced Antonin Scalia on the bench — the Supreme Court struck down Texas abortion restrictions that would have resulted in the shuttering of dozens of abortion clinics across the state. Despite joining Justice Stephen Breyer in writing the majority opinion, Ginsburg also wrote her own concurring opinion, which briefly but firmly warned lawmakers to refrain from implementing abortion restrictions the court deemed medically unnecessary:
It is beyond rational belief that H. B. 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law ‘would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions.’ When a state severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners ... at great risk to their health and safety.
2007: Ledbetter V. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.
In yet another close case back in 2007, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that workers cannot sue their employers over unequal pay caused by discrimination alleged to have taken place years prior. Ginsburg was so frustrated with the majority that she read her dissent from the bench, which The Washington Post described as an unusually rare practice at the time. In her dissent, Ginsburg criticized her colleagues in the majority for undermining women's rights:
In our view, the court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.
2000: Friends Of The Earth, Inc. V. Laidlaw Environmental Services, Inc.
In this case — which has become known as one of the most influential of Ginsburg's career — the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that Friends of the Earth and other residents in the vicinity of South Carolina's North Tyger River had the right to sue Laidlaw, an industrial polluter that routinely violated clean water permits. In writing the majority opinion, Ginsburg argued that that these residents had the right to sue Laidlaw even after it ceased polluting the river:
A defendant's voluntary cessation of allegedly unlawful conduct ordinarily does not suffice to moot a case. ... Congress has found that civil penalties in the Clean Water Act cases do more than promote immediate compliance... they also deter future violations.
2014: Veasey V. Perry
In a controversial move in the aftermath of Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court ruled in 2014 to allow Texas to use a strict voter identification law in that year's November elections. In her dissent, Ginsburg — alongside Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — offered a blistering critique of the majority, arguing that "racial discrimination in elections in Texas is no mere historical artifact":
The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters.
2015: Obergefell V. Hodges
It was Justice Anthony Kennedy and not Ginsburg who wrote the majority opinion in this landmark case, which made marriage equality the law of the land back in 2015. However, though she did not publish a written opinion in this case, Ginsburg did make headlines during court hearings for Obergefell when she called on her fellow justices to recognize that upholding tradition is not always useful or necessary:
Marriage today is not what it was under the common law tradition, under the civil law tradition. ... Marriage was a relationship of a dominant male to a subordinate female. That ended as a result of this court’s decision in 1982 when Louisiana’s Head and Master Rule was struck down … Would that be a choice that state should [still] be allowed to have? To cling to marriage the way it once was?
This is just a small selection of the powerful opinions Ginsburg has issued during her lengthy career. But from defending women's rights to challenging discrimination, Ginsburg has spent the past 25 years actively challenging her more conservative colleagues, and she has already made it clear that she plans to stick around and keep doing so.