Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed to the Supreme Court exactly twenty-five years ago this year. And while, by that time, she’d already firmly established herself as an uncompromising legal intellect and formidable personality, few would have predicted then that she would emerge as one of the court’s most recognizable and affectionately regarded figures.
Supreme Court justices largely do their work behind the scenes and at a remove from the public eye, but with her slight frame and matter-of-fact assertiveness, Justice Ginsburg has captured the popular imagination to a degree that only her boisterous friend, ideological opponent, and opera-going buddy, the late Antonin Scalia, rivaled.
Ginsburg has inspired a Lego figure, Halloween costumes, and a crowd-pleasing recurring character on “Saturday Night Live.” (She also just had a birthday – hbd, RBG!) Her cultural influence extends to the shelves of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library, where we have no fewer than two children’s picture books devoted to her adventures.
Her career also prompted an admiring law student to create a sassy Tumblr account, “Notorious RBG,” that then gave rise to a bestselling book of the same name, combining irreverent fan art and detailed research into something that’s unlike anything else on the biography shelves.
Like any other influential legal thinker, Ginsburg has also been the subject of some more conventional nonfiction books, including one she wrote herself.
But it’s a sign of just how idiosyncratic this octogenarian justice’s following is that even her exercise regime is the subject of a self-help workout book. I’m pretty sure she’s the first Supreme Court justice to spark a popular athletic regimen since Potter Stewart’s little-remembered “Sweatin’ to the Precedents.”
Ascending to the highest court in the land and becoming a pop culture icon is no small feat. But RBG should keep her eyes on the rearview; she’s not the only justice getting the popular literary treatment anymore. Her colleague Sonia Sotomayor has only been on the court since 2009 and has already turned up in a juvenile verse biography and a bilingual picture book about her childhood.