Tag Archives: Supreme Court

Jew of the Week: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg (b. 1933) was born in Brooklyn to an observant Conservative Jewish family. After earning a degree from Cornell, she pursued law at Harvard – one of just nine women in a class of 500 – and then completed her law studies at Columbia. During this time, she became the first ever woman to be published in two law reviews. She would later co-found the first law journal dedicated to women’s rights, and participated in some of the greatest cases on women’s rights before the Supreme Court. Not surprisingly, she is considered one of the key figures in ending gender discrimination. In the early 60’s, Ginsburg was a law researcher, spending time at the prestigious Lund University in Sweden (and co-authoring a book in Swedish). Following this, she was a law professor at Rutgers, and then at Columbia, where she was the first female professor to get tenure. In 1980, Ginsburg was appointed to the US Court of Appeals, and after 13 years of service, was elected to the Supreme Court (by an overwhelming 96 to 3 Senate vote). She has served continuously since then, and still rules on the Supreme Court today, despite being the oldest Justice at 82 years of age, and having battled two different cancers. Amazingly, she has never missed a single day of her Supreme Court duties. In 2012, she traveled to Egypt to assist in their transition to a democracy. True to her feminist roots, a couple of months ago Ginsburg co-authored ‘The Heroic and Visionary Women of Passover’ that looks at the central role of the female figures in the Exodus story. She has been ranked by Forbes as one of the ‘100 Most Powerful Women’ and among TIME’s list of 100 greatest icons.

Update: Sadly, Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on September 18, 2020.

Words of the Week

You can’t have it all, all at once. Who—man or woman—has it all, all at once? Over my lifespan 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.
– Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Jew of the Week: Irwin Cotler

Irwin Cotler

Irwin Cotler

Irwin Cotler (b. 1940) was born in Montreal and studied law at McGill University. After continuing his education at Yale, he returned to McGill as a law professor, and directed its Human Rights Program for over 25 years. As an expert on international and human rights law, Cotler served as a counsel for famous political prisoners like Nelson Mandela, Maher Arar, and Natan Sharansky. He has advised the Middle East peace process, and was involved in the Camp David Accords that brought peace between Israel and Egypt. In the 1980s, he served as President of the Canadian Jewish Congress, while also working to combat apartheid in South Africa. In 1999, he was elected as a Canadian Member of Parliament with a landslide victory that gave him 92% of the vote, described as “the most stunning electoral victory in this century.” Between 2003 and 2006, he served as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and has been lauded for his work in ensuring human rights and citizen privacy, particularly in the face of increasingly restrictive anti-terrorism legislation. He has worked against discrimination, anti-Semitism, and racism, appointing two women to the Supreme Court (making Canada’s the most gender-representative in the world), and appointing the first aboriginals and visible minorities to appellate courts. He issued the first national initiative against racism, worked to bring justice to victims of the Rwanda massacres, and even to indict former Iranian President Ahmadinejad for inciting genocide. Cotler reverted more wrongful convictions than any other minister in history. Having been re-elected as MP no less than 5 times, Cotler recently announced that he will not seek further re-election, and is ready to retire, though he intends to remain very active in social justice and peace activism. Awarded ten honourary degrees and the Order of Canada, Irwin Cotler is described as a key global player “in the struggle for justice, peace and human rights.”

Words of the Week

And God said: “. . . Abraham shall be a great people . . . Because I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him that they shall keep the way of God, to do righteousness and justice.”
– Genesis 18:17–19

Jew of the Week: Louis Brandeis

Robin Hood of the Law

Louis Brandeis

Louis Dembitz Brandeis (1856-1941) was born in Kentucky to Jewish immigrants from Prague. Despite his own family’s secularism, Brandeis’ role model and inspiration growing up was his uncle Naphtali Dembitz, a religious Jew, and in his honour Brandeis changed his middle name to Dembitz. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he achieved the highest grade point average in the school’s history – a record that stood for 80 years. This distinction, among others, led to his acceptance to the Massachussets bar without even taking the exam! Working at a Boston law firm, Brandeis quickly became famous as the “People’s Lawyer”, always defending the little guy, focusing on the public good, and refusing to take cases where he believed the defendant was guilty. Brandeis fought successfully against corruption, corporate power and consumerism, monopolies and banks; he fought for healthy workplace hours and wages, better living conditions for the poor and a host of other public causes. More amazingly, he stopped accepting payment for this work. In 1916, Brandeis was nominated to the Supreme Court, one of the most controversial events in U.S. political history. It caused such a great furor that for the first time ever a public hearing was held. Brandeis was termed “dangerous”, not only because he was a Jew, but as was later said, “because of his brilliance, his arithmetic, his courage. He was dangerous because he was incorruptible…” Brandeis’ confirmation to the Supreme Court came a month later, in a process that normally took a single day. He would serve as supreme court justice for 23 years. Meanwhile, Brandeis was also a lifelong Zionist, and served as president of the Provisional Executive Committee for Zionist Affairs. In his later years he donated generously to Israel. Nicknamed ‘Robin Hood of the Law’, he is most remembered for upholding free speech and individual privacy, crusading for the public, and revolutionizing many aspects of American law. Brandeis passed away on the eve of Sukkot.

Words of the Week

He who learns but does not think is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.
– Confucius