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How the Notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg Became a Pop Icon

Today, March 15, is Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s 85th birthday, and we’re excited to say she’s still going strong. From earning the nickname the Notorious RBG to being a recurring character on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update and now the subject of the new documentary RBG, she’s by far the most well-known judge in the land (after Judge Judy, of course).

But how did this tiny, seemingly frail old lady who regularly falls asleep at the State of the Union address get so popular? Let’s break it down.

When Bader Ginsburg was in law school, she faced gender discrimination. According to the documentary RBG, one of her professors even shamed her for taking up a spot at Harvard Law School that could be filled by a man. But her experience didn’t derail her; it only made her more determined to succeed. It also inspired her to fight for other people facing discrimination, particularly people of color and fellow women.

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Image: Magnolia Pictures

She was appointed a Supreme Court justice by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and has ruled on many high-profile and controversial cases. But what made her famous weren’t the cases in which the other justices agreed with her; they were her dissenting opinions she wrote when the court didn’t rule her way. These dissenting opinions gave a voice to people in the minority who didn’t think they had one.

One famous case featured in the new documentary was Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which made headlines for months in 2013. Hobby Lobby made the case that using birth control went against their Christian values as a company, and they shouldn’t have to pay insurers to cover the expenses of contraception. In a 5-to-4 ruling, the court ruled in Hobby Lobby’s favor. Bader Ginsburg was one of the four judges who didn’t agree.

Here is an excerpt from her dissenting opinion:

“[The] Majority decision allows employers to deny insurance coverage of birth control for religious reasons. The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.”

She’s clearly taking a pro-woman stance, and it didn’t go unnoticed. Young people especially agreed with her opinion on this and many other cases. But it was when a young law student named Shana Knizhnik created the Notorious RBG Tumblr that Bader Ginsburg really become popular. The Tumblr, along with other memes, went viral, and Bader Ginsburg became an internet star.

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Here is Kate McKinnon playing her on Saturday Night Live:

The Gins-burn was a hit, and now people are getting Notorious RBG tattoos, and little girls are dressing up as Bader Ginsburg for Halloween. Thanks to social media, the diminutive octogenarian is now a role model and feminist icon.

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RBG tattoo
Image: Facebook/Jackson & Wilson Trial Attorneys

Bader Ginsburg’s story is told beautifully in the new documentary, RBG, which opens on May 4.

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