Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Legacy of Dissent

Feminist Rhetoric and the Law Katie L. Gibson


Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s lifelong effort to reshape the language of American law has had profound consequences: she has shifted the rhetorical boundaries of jurisprudence on a wide range of fundamental issues from equal protection to reproductive rights. Beginning in the early 1970s, Ginsburg led a consequential attack on sexist law in the United States. By directly confronting the patriarchal voice of the law, she pointedly challenged an entrenched genre of legal language that silenced the voices and experiences of American women and undermined their status as equal citizens. On the United States Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg continues to challenge the traditional scripts of legal discourse to insist on a progressive vision of the Constitution and to demand a more inclusive and democratic body of law.

This illuminating work examines Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s contributions in reshaping the rhetoric of the law (specifically through the lens of watershed cases in women’s rights) and describes her rhetorical contributions—beginning with her work in the 1970s as a lawyer and an advocate for the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project through her tenure as a Supreme Court justice. Katie L. Gibson examines Ginsburg’s rhetoric to argue that she has dramatically shifted the boundaries of legal language. Gibson draws from rhetorical theory, critical legal theory, and feminist theory to describe the law as a rhetorical genre, arguing that Ginsburg’s jurisprudence can appropriately be understood as a direct challenge to the traditional rhetoric of the law.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg stands as an incredibly important figure in late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century feminism. While a growing number of admirers celebrate Justice Ginsburg’s voice of dissent today, Ginsburg’s rhetorical legacy reveals that she has long articulated a sharp and strategic voice of judicial dissent. This study contributes to a more complete understanding of her feminist legacy by detailing the unique contributions of her legal rhetoric.


Katie L. Gibson is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Colorado State University where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in rhetorical studies. Her scholarship investigates the politics of representation in legal discourses, political communication, and popular culture.


“A significant contribution to the rhetorical studies literature; the cultural and political value of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is considerable and there is a definite need for a careful, sustained analysis of her judicial rhetoric. Gibson provides just such an analysis, and her work is a powerful contribution to the ongoing conversations about the relationships between law, rhetoric and the broader political culture.”

—Trevor Parry-Giles, author of The Character of Justice: Rhetoric, Law, and Politics in the Supreme Court Confirmation Process and coauthor of The Prime-Time Presidency: The West Wing and U.S. Nationalism


About The Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.