The Truth About Ruth Bader Ginsburg And Barack Obama's Relationship

They were both groundbreaking historical figures. She was the second woman to ever sit on the Supreme Court and he was the first African-American president of the United States. Barack Obama served as president during some of the last years Ruth Bader Ginsburg was on the court, but the late justice had been a fan of the president long before he took office. 

Ginsburg was appointed to the court in 1993 by then President Bill Clinton after years as a lawyer fighting for women's rights with the ACLU and as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals (via Biography). Obama was elected to the presidency in 2008 after just four years in the Senate, following several years in the Illinois State Senate and as a community organizer in Chicago (via Biography). When Ginsburg's son lived in Chicago, he would tell her stories about this young crusader and his rise in Illinois politics, according to The Cut.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Barack Obama shared a mutual admiration

When Barack Obama first came to Washington, Ruth Bader Ginsburg requested to sit next to him at a Supreme Court dinner for members of the Senate, according to The Cut. She got her wish and Michelle Obama reportedly told her that the only reason she allowed him to run for the Illinois seat was because he promised her he'd quit smoking. In his 2020 memoir, "A Promised Land," Obama admitted he was still smoking due to White House stress (via Yahoo! News).

In fact, The Cut reported that Obama was so fond of Ginsburg that he would often joke around with her and about her when around other justices. For example, when former Justice Anthony Kennedy asked the basketball-loving president if he wanted to play, he replied with "I don't know ... I hear that Justice Ginsburg has been working on her jump shot." He also warmly welcomed her to a Hanukkah party, saying, "Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is here. We are thrilled to see her. She's one of my favorites. I've got a soft spot for Justice Ginsburg."

As for Ginsburg, she had a framed photo of Obama hugging her at a State of the Union address in her Supreme Court chambers.

Barack Obama and Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a meeting that turned awkward

It wasn't all fun, games, and laughs for the former president and the late justice. The Baltimore Sun reported that in 2013 before the midterm elections, Barack Obama invited Ruth Bader Ginsburg to lunch at the White House to discuss the possibility that the Democrats might lose the Senate in 2014. While he made no specific mention of her retiring, the meeting was to reportedly plant the seed in Ginsburg's head that she might want to retire before then. She was already 80 years old and had beaten cancer twice — if she were to pass away when the Republicans held the Senate, filling her seat with someone like her would be hard.

Ultimately, Ginsburg chose not to retire, the Democrats did lose the Senate in 2014, and Justice Antonin Scalia passed before she did in 2016 with the Republicans refusing to fill his seat until after that year's presidential election. When Ginsburg passed away in 2020, less than two months before another presidential election, Republicans quickly filled her seat with Justice Amy Coney Barrett (via NPR).

Barack Obama sent this message after Ruth Bader Ginsburg died

When Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18, 2020, Barack Obama sent a message to the nation via The Barack Obama Presidential Library praising her.

"Over a long career on both sides of the bench — as a relentless litigator and an incisive jurist — Justice Ginsburg helped us see that discrimination on the basis of sex isn't about an abstract ideal of equality; that it doesn't only harm women; that it has real consequences for all of us. It's about who we are — and who we can be," Obama wrote.

The former president when on to highlight the ways in which Ginsburg "inspired" millions of women across the country, ranging from the little kids who dressed up like her on Halloween to the women who went to law school to follow the justice in her footsteps. Obama highlighted Ginsburg's amazing legacy, then gave the justice a final thank you for her years of service. 

"We offer our gratitude and our condolences to her children and grandchildren tonight," Obama concluded. "Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought to the end, through her cancer, with unwavering faith in our democracy and its ideals. That's how we remember her."