3 Times Ruth Bader Ginsburg Earned Her Reputation for Dissent
Filmmaker Lena Dunham, journalist Janet Mock, and Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin are just a few of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s more famous fans. In a new video, they join politicians, activists, and civil rights leaders in paying tribute to the Supreme Court justice in honor of a new biography, Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The book takes its name from the eponymous Tumblr blog launched two years ago by MSNBC reporter Irin Carmon and then–NYU law student Shana Knizhnik, who used memes and GIFs to reimagine Ginsburg as such hip-hop icons as the Notorious B.I.G. and Beyoncé.
While Notorious RBG has catapulted Ginsburg, 82, to caricature status and cemented her place in pop culture—her image appears on everything from shirts and onesies to stickers and tattoos—it doesn’t overlook her contributions to the American justice system. The blog was inspired in part by Ginsburg’s dissent in a Supreme Court ruling weakening parts of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Here, we explore that ruling and two other cases that earned Ginsburg her “notorious” reputation for fervent opposition.
1. Voting Rights Act
In June 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the portion of the Voting Rights Act that allowed nine mostly Southern states to bypass federal approval to modify their election laws—allowing states to enact voting restrictions that have led to lower voter turnout among black and younger voters, according to a congressional study published last year. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. maintained that the original 1965 provision was outdated and out of step with “current conditions.” Ginsburg dissented, invoking Martin Luther King Jr. to argue that his commitment to civil rights had been “disserved” by the decision. “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,” she wrote.
2. Texas Voter ID Laws
As a result of the Voting Rights Act ruling, Texas announced it would begin enforcing a law requiring voters to show approved forms of identification before casting a ballot. When the law was challenged, the Supreme Court ruled in October 2014 that it could be used in the November election, despite outcry from civil rights groups that the law was discriminatory and could disproportionately prohibit blacks and Latinos from voting. Ginsburg was one of three justices who dissented; the other two were Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Ginsburg wrote: “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.”
3. Religious Freedom Restoration Act
In June 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that certain employers are exempt from a portion of the Affordable Care Act and can legally deny their employees insurance coverage for contraceptives if it infringes on their religious beliefs. While Justice Samuel Alito held that the decision in favor of the for-profit corporation Hobby Lobby would have a limited effect, Ginsburg dissented, insisting that the decision would have wide-sweeping consequences for women’s reproductive health care. “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield,” she wrote. “Religious organizations exist to foster the same interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations.”