#18 Judges Kagan, Breyer and Bader Ginsburg - The legal world’s biggest change-makers

Whenever one of them speaks, the entire country listens.

September 20, 2017 13:41
2 minute read.
Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Left) Stephen Bryer and Elana Kagan

Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Left) Stephen Bryer and Elana Kagan. (photo credit: REUTERS FILE PHOTOS)


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As US Supreme Court Justices, their vote can change the course of American history for generations. Which is why whenever one of them speaks, the entire country listens.


Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for her part, made headlines earlier this year when 58 House Republicans signed a letter calling on her to recuse herself from cases involving the Trump administration – particularly the travel ban case – following comments she had made during the presidential campaign about the Republican nominee as a “faker” and “having an ego.”

She has a long and distinguished record, not just in the courts, but also in her influence and work in the fight against gender discrimination, which included not simply fighting for the women left behind, but for the men who were discriminated against as well. She is forthright though, in her opinions about gender imbalance.

Soon her life and legacy will be immortalized on the silver screen. Felicity Jones is set to play her in a biopic slated to start shooting this year.

The Notorious R.B.G. (as some of her admirers have come to call her), is also a staunch advocate for women's rights. 

“Women will only have true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation,” she told a New York City Bar publication in 2001.


Elana Kagan is the newbie of this list, as she was appointed in 2010. Though she has not been the lead author on many opinions this past year, Kagan did write an opinion striking down multiple states’ drawing of their electoral district lines in a way designed to limit African-American voter influence.

Further, in 2014, Kagan staked her claim to the hall of fame for Jewish judges with a rousing retelling of one of the first interactions between George Washington and the Jews of the US. She authored a dissenting opinion for Town of Greece vs. Galloway, where the court voted 5-4 that the small New York town could kick off its town hall meetings with a prayer.

“When the citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans, not as members of one faith or another. And that means that even in a partly legislative body, they should not confront government-sponsored worship that divides them along religious lines,” she said in her decision advocating for the separation of church and state.


Since his 1994 appointment, Justice Stephen Breyer has cultivated a reputation for pragmatism, cooperation and optimism with both political parties.

 Breyer is well known for taking a less strictly interpretive perspective on his rulings, being guided by a pragmatic accounting of the consequences of his decisions for those involved. While being guided by the Constitution, his rulings, as opposed to some of his more conservative colleagues, are not bound by strict interpretation of its language – preferring to follow the Framers’ intent instead.

A pro-choice, anti-death penalty justice, Breyer is known for respecting the legislature’s decisions. However, in 2000, he authored a majority opinion that ruled that a Nebraska law banning partial-birth abortions was unconstitutional and in 2015, dissented a case dealing with the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s lethal injection process.

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