Ruth Bader Ginsburg is emerging as an Internet sensation

BY Nora Daly  July 2, 2014 at 6:20 PM EDT
Photo by  Steve Petteway, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Photo by Steve Petteway, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg garnered a lot of media attention this week for her scathing dissent on the Court’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling, and it has not all come from the usual sources. Outside the pages of major newspapers and scholarly law reviews, the dissent is fast becoming immortalized within the worlds of social media and popular culture. Songwriter Jonathan Mann set the justice’s words to music (taking some poetic license) in a popular YouTube video that has been picked up by everyone from the Washington Post to People and Buzzfeed.

NYU Law student Shana Knizhnik was ahead of the curve in predicting Ginsburg’s appeal to a wider Internet audience. She created the Tumblr page Notorious R.B.G. in the summer of 2013, after being inspired by Ginsburg’s strong dissent in the voting rights case, Shelby County v. Holder. An excerpt from that dissent, in Knizhnik’s words “the zinger that started it all,” was the first post on the site. Notorious R.B.G. has since grown to include memes, GIFs, childhood photos, and some truly impressive reader art.

An assortment of R.B.G. t-shirts are also available through the site. Knizhnik created the first t-shirt the same night she created the Tumblr, and admits they have sold “more than I ever expected.” She often sees NYU Law classmates wearing the shirts around campus, and recently spotted one while out at a bar in D.C., where she is working for the summer.

Knizhnik is not surprised by the site’s popularity among mainstream Tumblr users. “Ginsburg is a particularly feisty dissenter… she writes with such passion and such force,” she explains, noting the contrast between Ginsburg’s often fiery language and her demure appearance. It is this juxtaposition, Knizhnik feels, that makes the justice a “perfect fit” for the heavily visual Tumblr platform.

Knizhnik also relates to Ginsburg on a personal level. As a Jewish woman poised to embark on her own legal career, she finds Ginsburg, the second female and first Jewish woman to serve on the Court, “incredibly inspiring.”

“If she were to see the blog, which I am sure she has at this point, I would want her not to be offended,” Knizhnik declares. In spite of its playful name and nature, Notorious R.B.G. is meant, above all, to be “a celebration of Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a public figure.”

Correction: This post originally reported Ginsburg as being the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice. It has been corrected to say “first Jewish woman to serve on the Court.”