RBG v. Kavanaugh
RBG v. Kavanaugh
It’s kind of a complicated question. There are all sorts of demanding hoops that anyone aspiring to the job has to jump through. But for certain people, those hoops may double, even triple in quantity. By the way, we’re not talking about random people jumping through random hoops. We’re talking marginalized people working harder than they should have to in order to attain the same or at least a similar status as privileged men. So, when we ask “How hard do you have to work to become a Supreme Court justice?” the answers may differ if you’re asking about Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Brett Kavanaugh.
Without a doubt, both Justices Ginsburg and Kavanaugh have worked very hard in their careers to get to where they are now. But if we take a closer look, it seems that while Ginsburg had to push her way into a space where she knew she wasn’t welcome, Kavanaugh seemed to be invited into the space inhabited and controlled by familiar male privilege.
Starting off with their childhoods, we can see that Ginsburg and Kavanaugh were set up for very different lives, or at least very different obstacles. Growing up in a low-income neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, Ginsburg was both a first generation American and a first generation college student. It was up to her to work hard and excel in her studies so that she could make it as the first college graduate in her family. Ginsburg ended up getting into Cornell University, which she describes as “a preferred school for daughters (0.09:39)” because of the 4 to 1 ratio of males to females. Without a doubt, the odds were stacked against Ruth Bader Ginsburg becoming a Supreme Court Justice--she was poor, her mother had recently died of cancer, she was Jewish, she was a woman, and it was the 1950’s. The world was not necessarily inviting her to succeed. The circumstances looked very different for Brett Kavanaugh. As a white Christian upper-middle class male, Kavanaugh grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC., a son of two attorneys. Kavanaugh attended Georgetown Preparatory School, an elite all-boys institution known for producing other highly successful men such as Neil Gorsuch, another current justice on the Supreme Court. The prospect of college wasn’t a question for Kavanaugh, and he was accepted into Yale University, the alma mater of his grandfather Everett Edward Kavanaugh.
After college, both Ginsburg and Kavanaugh went to on to law school. Academically successful at Cornell, and graduating as the highest-ranking female in her graduating class, Ginsburg earned a spot at Harvard Law School. She was 1 of 9 women in a class of over 500 men. She remembers both being ignored in classes by professors and feeling that she was constantly on display as a woman at a male institution. Not only was Ginsburg studying rigorously at one of the most esteemed law schools in the country, but she also juggled the roles of student, wife, and mother. After class, she would return home to her 14 month old child and proceed to copy both her own and her husband’s law school notes as he was ill for a prolonged period. Despite these many challenges, Ginsburg continued to excel at Harvard, and eventually graduated from Columbia Law School where she transferred after her husband got a job in New York City. Unlike Ginsburg, Kavanaugh had a more conventional law school experience at Yale. He lived in a group house with other male friends, joined the Yale Law Journal, played basketball and graduated in 1990 with a Juris Doctor.
After law school Ginsburg continued to bump up against a sexism in the field of law while Kavanaugh experienced a smooth entry into the legal sphere. Even with gushing recommendations and her husband’s vast connections in New York, Ginsburg could not find employment at any New York City law firm for the reason that she was a woman. She ended up taking a job as a law professor at Rutgers University where she was informed that she would make less money than her male co-workers. Kavanaugh, on the other hand, left law school and transitioned directly into a job as a law clerk for Judge Walter King Stapleton of the United States Court of Appeals. From here, Kavanaugh started moving up the federal judicial ladder.
It wasn’t until Ginsburg started arguing in front of the Supreme Court that she truly gained a voice in the legal sphere. In 1973, in her first Supreme Court case Frontiero v. Richardson, Ginsburg argued that Sharon Frontiero, a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force, had a right to the same housing allowance as her male counterparts. Ginsburg won. That case was the first of many victories for RBG.