Ruth Bader Ginsburg & Dissents: What’s a Dissent?

Recently, we learned that one of the Supreme Court Justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, died at the age of 87. Justice Ginsburg was well known for being a champion of gender equality throughout her legal career. In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, making her the second woman ever on the court.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg became known more commonly as Notorious RBG, or RBG, when NYU Law student Shana Knizhnik catapulted her to celebrity status in 2013. Knizhnik started a Tumblr blog for the justice in 2013, after she was inspired by Justice Ginsburg’s dissent in the Shelby County v. Holder decision. The Tumblr account took off and turned Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg into a pop culture icon. Justice Ginsburg became well-known for her strongly worded dissents in response to some Supreme Court opinions.

What is a dissent? When the Supreme Court decides on a case, they issue a majority opinion. The majority opinion explains why the majority of justices decided the case the way that they did. However, in many rulings, not all of the justices agree that the decision was correct. In this case, one or more justices will file a dissent that comes along with the majority opinion. In the dissent, the justices who disagree with the ruling explain why they disagree.

Typically only one justice writes a majority opinion, and only one justice writes the dissent. The other justices join in on either the opinion or dissent. Despite the fact that the justices routinely disagree with each other, they never let it get personal, and have good working relationships with one another.

Both opinions and dissents become a part of case law and precedent. What this means is that in future cases at any level, lawyers can use the decisions and reasoning behind the case to help their own cases. While opinions have a greater role in this because a majority of justices agreed on it, dissents can also be used in future cases. Even though a case did not work out the way a justice believed it should, their arguments can be used in the future to potentially change the law or future rulings. 

Image of Ruth Bader Ginsburg wearing her dissent jabot. It is gold with lines radiating from the top of the neckline to the bottom
Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Dissent Jabot. Image credit to https://dissentpins.com/pages/rbgandthedissentcollar

So, back to Justice Ginsburg. She authored several majority opinions, as do all of the justices. (They typically share opinion writing evenly.) But, she also wrote some very powerful dissents. She became especially known for wearing a different type of jabot (kind of a cross between a collar and a necklace) when she had written a dissent. Justice Ginsburg (and all justices) help highlight why it is important for us to make our voices heard. However, if you’re going to voice your approval or disapproval of something, like all of the justices, make sure to do your research and explain why you believe you are right.

To learn more about Justice Ginsburg check out these resources:

Notable Opinions and Dissents

My Own Words

RBG

Decisions and Dissents of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Conversations with RBG

Notorious RBG

I Dissent

No Truth Without Ruth

Sisters in Law

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