Jus­tice Gins­burg talks about ca­reer

The Kent Island Bay Times - - Front Page - By DOUG BISHOP dbishop@kibay­times.com

QUEEN­STOWN — Ruth Bader Gins­burg, one of nine jus­tices on the U.S. Supreme Court, spoke Wed­nes­day night, May 24, at the Wye Fel­lows speaker se­ries at the Aspen In­sti­tute in Queen­stown.

About 200 peo­ple at­tended the talk, which was for in­vited guests only, and en­joyed lis­ten­ing to Gins­burg speak about her dis­tin­guished ca­reer in law and an­swer ques­tions. Gins­burg’s lat­est book, “My Own Words,” also was on sale at the event.

Gins­burg and event mod­er­a­tor El­liott Ger­son, Aspen’s ex­ec­u­tive vice president, were in­tro­duced by Merly Chertoff, di­rec­tor of the in­sti­tute’s Jus­tice and So­ci­ety Pro­gram. Chertoff de­scribed Gins­burg as “an in­ter­net sen­sa­tion” and “the Thur­good Mar­shall of women’s is­sues.”

“You may feel you’re in the pres­ence of a rock star!” she said.

Or per­haps a movie star? It was an­nounced a movie is be­ing made next year in which Gins­burg will be por­trayed by ac­tress Natalie Port­man.

Gins­burg was born March 15, 1933, in Brook­lyn, N.Y., to a work­ing-class fam­ily. Her mother, Celia Bader, who worked in a gar­ment fac­tory to help pay for her brother’s col­lege ed­u­ca­tion, was of par­tic­u­lar in­flu­ence, teach­ing her daugh­ter the value of in­de­pen­dence and a good ed­u­ca­tion.

A fa­mous Gins­burg quote high­lighted this: “My mother told me to be a lady. And to her, that meant be your own per­son, be in­de­pen­dent.”

Sadly, her mother died af­ter a long strug­gle with can­cer the day be­fore the fu­ture Supreme Court jus­tice grad­u­ated from high school.

“My mother was a pow­er­ful in­flu­ence. She made me toe the line. If I didn’t have a per­fect re­port card, she showed her dis­ap­point­ment,” Gins­burg said.

She went on to grad­u­ate first in her class at Cor­nell Univer­sity in 1954 with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in gov­ern­ment. In the mid-1950s, she went to Har­vard Law School as one of nine fe­males in a class of 500 law stu­dents where women were chided by the law dean for tak­ing the places of qual­i­fied males. Even­tu­ally, Gins­burg be­came the first fe­male mem­ber of the pres­ti­gious Har­vard Law Re­view.

She taught at Rut­gers Univer­sity Law School and then at Columbia, where she be­came the school’s first fe­male tenured pro­fes­sor.

Dur­ing the 1970s, she be­came di­rec­tor of the Women’s Rights Project for the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, for which she ar­gued six land­mark cases on gen­der equal­ity be­fore the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter ap­pointed Gins­burg to the U.S. Court of Ap­peals of the District of Columbia.

She cred­ited Carter for be­ing the first president to open the door to fed­eral judge­ships for women.

“President Carter ap­pointed 25 women to be fed­eral judges, 11 of those to the U.S. Courts of Ap­peals, which I was one of those,” Gins­burg said.

In 1993, President Bill Clin­ton se­lected her to be on the U.S. Supreme Court, and she was con­firmed by a vote of 96-3 in the U.S. Se­nate.

“Sen. Or­rin Hatch of Utah was one of my big­gest sup­port­ers dur­ing the con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings, to many peo­ple’s sur­prise,” she said.

She is con­sid­ered part of the Supreme Court’s mod­er­ate-lib­eral bloc, pre­sent­ing a strong voice in fa­vor of gen­der equal­ity, the rights of work­ers and the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state.

One of the first ques­tions asked of her by mod­er­a­tor Ger­son was about how well she worked with the late Jus­tice An­tonin Scalia. Scalia and Gins­burg of­ten dis­agreed on many court de­ci­sions.

“He made me laugh, and we both loved opera,” Gins­burg said. “He told me fre­quently, ‘You’d be more per­sua­sive if you’d just tone your ar­gu­ments down.’ Of course, that would never hap­pen!”

As for work­ing with the other jus­tices, Gins­burg said, “We are all one in our rev­er­ence for the Con­sti­tu­tion.”

She said some­one once asked her, “How can you work with Jus­tice Scalia since he is your en­emy/op­po­nent?” She replied, “No, he’s my friend.”

One of her fa­mous quotes again reaf­firms her be­lief that the Supreme Court jus­tices all re­vere the Con­sti­tu­tion and sim­ply have dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tions: “You can dis­agree with­out be­ing dis­agree­able.”

Gins­burg shared her opin­ion that his­tor­i­cally, “the worst de­ci­sion the court ever made was in the Dred Scott case.” She did not go into de­tail about why, but said in ex­plain­ing her think­ing about when she will dis­sent from a de­ci­sion by the court, “I do it when I feel the court is egre­giously wrong in its de­ci­sion. I feel a dis­sent­ing opin­ion is made for the fu­ture of that is­sue.”

Af­ter about 40 min­utes of ques­tions from mod­er­a­tor Ger­son, he turned to a Q&A ses­sion from those in at­ten­dance. Only seven peo­ple, one of those an uniden­ti­fied child who ap­peared to be un­der 10 years old, stood to ask ques­tions. The child’s ques­tion was, “What case(s) are the most dif­fi­cult?” Gins­burg replied, “Cases in­volv­ing the death penalty.”

One of those from the au­di­ence asked if the jus­tices ever lobby each other on vot­ing on is­sues be­ing de­cided by the court. Gins­burg said, “No, there is never any horse trad­ing or lob­by­ing be­tween the jus­tices. We all vote based on our opin­ions.”

Asked if she was con­cerned about the bal­ance of jus­tices (conser va­tive and lib­eral) “turn­ing back the clock on cer­tain is­sues like abor­tion,” Gins­burg replied, “We will never go back to the time be­fore Roe v. Wade.”

“Places where re­stric­tions have been at­tempted, like in Texas, clearly show who will be pun­ished with such re­stric­tions. The poor, the peo­ple who can least af­ford ser­vices needed. The re­stric­tions are against poor women,” she said. Again, she added one of her fa­mous quotes: “The em­pha­sis must be not on the right to abor­tion but on the right to pri­vacy and re­pro­duc­tive con­trol.”

Asked about the new­est Supreme Court Jus­tice Neil Gor­such, Gins­burg said, “The first week on the job, we had 13 cases be­fore us. I can tell you he was pre­pared. I think he’s an ex­cel­lent jus­tice.”

Gins­burg has had two bat­tles with can­cer, the first in 1999 with colon rec­tal can­cer. In 2009, pan­cre­atic can­cer was dis­cov­ered early. She re­cov­ered from the surgery to cure her of it.

Cur­rently the el­dest mem­ber of the U.S. Supreme Court, she still works out at a gym lo­cated in­side the Supreme Court build­ing in Washington, D.C.


From left, Aspen In­sti­tute Ex­ec­u­tive Vice President El­liot Ger­son mod­er­ates a dis­cus­sion Wed­nes­day evening, May 24, with Supreme Court Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg at the in­sti­tute’s Queen­stown cam­pus.

The front cover of Supreme Court Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg’s lat­est book “My Onw Words,” was on sale Wed­nes­day evening, May 24, at the Aspen In­sti­tute in Queen­stown, where Gins­burg spoke. The copies sold there were per­son­ally au­to­graphed.


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