I clerked for RBG while rais­ing a child

Her work and em­pa­thy al­lowed me to do both

- Amy Mar­shak Amy Mar­shak is a lit­i­ga­tor at the In­sti­tute for Con­sti­tu­tional Ad­vo­cacy and Pro­tec­tion, Ge­orge­town Univer­sity Law Cen­ter, where she is also an ad­junct pro­fes­sor of law.

Iin­ter­viewed to be­come one of Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg’s law clerks on a hu­mid June af­ter­noon in 2014 in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. At 5 feet, 8 inches tall and nearly eight months preg­nant, I felt rather con­spic­u­ous and in­el­e­gant next to Jus­tice Gins­burg’s trim, im­pec­ca­bly dressed 5foot frame. But the Supreme Court jus­tice never men­tioned my preg­nancy dur­ing the in­ter­view — never ques­tioned whether I could han­dle a no­to­ri­ously de­mand­ing and all-con­sum­ing job with a young child — and of­fered me a job on the spot.

Even though we did not dis­cuss it then, it was ap­par­ent a year later when I be­gan work­ing for her that she re­mem­bered I had a young child. Within my first few days on the job, Gins­burg made it clear that I was wel­come to leave the of­fice each evening in time to put my daugh­ter to bed (even though the jus­tice, a night owl by na­ture, stayed late nearly ev­ery night) and to con­tinue my work from home in the evening — much as she did as a law stu­dent with a 1-year-old at home.

And when she did need me to stay late to work on an ur­gent mat­ter, she would al­ways call me at my desk well be­fore I would leave to let me know, al­le­vi­at­ing any worry that I would miss some­thing im­por­tant by fol­low­ing her sug­ges­tion.

My ex­pe­ri­ence should not have been sur­pris­ing. Her treat­ment of a young law clerk was in keep­ing with the prin­ci­ples that Gins­burg fought for, and the dis­crim­i­na­tion she faced, in her re­mark­able ca­reer in sup­port of women’s equal rights and equal op­por­tu­nity.

Hid­ing her sec­ond preg­nancy

Much of Gins­burg’s le­gal work be­fore her ca­reer on the bench fo­cused on dis­man­tling le­gal clas­si­fi­ca­tions based on stereo­typed as­sump­tions about ap­pro­pri­ate gen­der roles and women’s needs and abil­i­ties. And as a young, un­tenured law pro­fes­sor, Gins­burg hid her sec­ond preg­nancy be­neath baggy clothes un­til af­ter her teach­ing con­tract was re­newed — an in­dig­nity I never needed to even con­tem­plate.

The gra­cious­ness and care that Jus­tice Gins­burg showed me also should not have come as a sur­prise. She ap­proached not just the law but all the peo­ple in her life with an un­par­al­leled de­gree of em­pa­thy and com­pas­sion. She had a re­mark­able abil­ity not just to grasp the crit­i­cal le­gal ques­tions in a case but also to keep at the front of her mind the ac­tual peo­ple who would be af­fected by the court’s de­ci­sions in cases large and small. And her abil­ity to build mean­ing­ful and en­dur­ing friend­ships across po­lit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal di­vides, in­clud­ing with Jus­tice An­tonin Scalia, was leg­endary.

While her kind­ness to me would have been enough, her men­tor­ship and mod­el­ing of how to live as a “whole per­son,” as she once de­scribed it to me — a per­son with a deep and abid­ing passion for her work, her fam­ily and friends, and, for her, opera — went far be­yond these thought­ful cour­te­sies.

Work and fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties

Although I never had the op­por­tu­nity to know her hus­band, Marty, the sto­ries of their life­long ado­ra­tion and sup­port for each other com­mand ad­mi­ra­tion. They shared work and fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties — the jus­tice in par­tic­u­lar loved to show off the cook­book of Marty’s recipes, sold at the Supreme Court gift shop, to any vis­i­tor who came in even years af­ter his death — and Marty was the in­for­mal “cam­paign man­ager” who ral­lied be­hind the scenes for her nom­i­na­tion to the court.

It is a fit­ting trib­ute to Gins­burg that her of­fi­cial por­trait, which will soon hang in the halls of the Supreme Court, features not just her but also to­kens of her hus­band and her two chil­dren.

In the midst of a pan­demic that re­quires so much more of all of us, es­pe­cially par­ents of young chil­dren, I have found it both in­spir­ing and heart­en­ing to think of Jus­tice Gins­burg, who rose to the top of the le­gal pro­fes­sion de­spite long odds, dis­crim­i­na­tion and, in later years, re­peated bat­tles with se­ri­ous ill­ness — and who did it while lift­ing up those whom the law failed to pro­tect.

I will miss her dearly, but the ex­am­ple she set will not soon be for­got­ten.

 ?? DOUG MILLS/AP ?? Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg with her fam­ily at the Supreme Court in 1993. From left: son-in-law Ge­orge Spera, daugh­ter Jane Gins­burg, hus­band Martin and son James Gins­burg. In front are grand­chil­dren Clara and Paul Spera.
DOUG MILLS/AP Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg with her fam­ily at the Supreme Court in 1993. From left: son-in-law Ge­orge Spera, daugh­ter Jane Gins­burg, hus­band Martin and son James Gins­burg. In front are grand­chil­dren Clara and Paul Spera.

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