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September 25, 2020
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  National Leaders in the Mental Health Aspects
of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
Friday Feature
Remembering the Strengths and Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020)
 
Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgFrom the beginning of her education in law, Ruth Bader Ginsburg relied on her bravery. In the fall of 1956, she was one of only 9 women in a class of about 500 men at Harvard Law School. She transferred to Columbia Law School where she graduated in 1959, tied for first in her class. Despite this achievement, at the start of her legal career Ruth Bader Ginsburg encountered difficulty in finding employment. She was rejected for a Supreme Court clerkship position due to her gender in 1960, and in 1963 she held her first position as a professor at Rutgers Law School but was paid less than her male colleagues. Her perseverance through these events propelled her to co-found the Women’s Rights Law Reporter, become the first tenured woman at Columbia Law School, and co-found the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. Tapping into her strength of leadership, she was appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1980, serving there until becoming the second female and the first Jewish female justice of the Supreme Court in 1993. 
Based on her life experiences of discrimination, she fought hard against gender discrimination and promoted women’s rights and equality.
 
From the perspective of our START network, perhaps the character strength that most resonates is her sense of fairness which was evident throughout her life and career. This strength of fairness extended beyond women’s equality into several other areas including disabilities. In 1999, Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion in Olmstead v. L.C., in which the Court ruled that mental illness is a form of disability covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The case established that unjustified segregation of people with disabilities is discrimination under the ADA and that people with disabilities have a right to live in the community rather than institutions. Justice Ginsburg wrote in her opinion that "institutional placement of persons who can handle and benefit from community settings perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable of or unworthy of participating in community life." As we remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg, may we draw upon our own strengths of bravery, perseverance, leadership, and fairness to ensure people with disabilities are empowered to participate in positive and meaningful ways in their communities.

 
Jill Hinton, PhD
CSS Clinical Director
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Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire