RBG holds court before 13,000 in North Little Rock
An 86-year-old woman sat down for an hour-long interview in North Little Rock’s Verizon Arena Tuesday, and one out of 100 Arkansans either were there or tried to be there.
The woman was Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second female appointed to the court.
The event gave away 15,000 free tickets. About 13,000 attended, and there were another 15,000-16,000 people on a waiting list. That’s about 30,000 in a state with about 3 million people, or about one out of 100.
Ginsburg was interviewed by National Public Radio correspondent Nina Totenberg as part of the Clinton School of Public Service’s Kumpuris Distinguished Lecture Series.
Former President Bill Clinton, who nominated Ginsburg to the court, introduced them.
Eleven days earlier, Ginsburg had received the last of three weeks of pancreatic cancer radiation treatments after undergoing a lung cancer operation late last year. Asked why she was appearing so soon, she said she had promised she would come, which drew a standing ovation.
She said she was “feeling very good tonight.” And she looked and sounded good. We should all be so sharp at 86.
Ginsburg came to the Supreme Court after a career as an attorney, activist and judge. As co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project, she argued six gender equality cases before the Supreme Court and won five of them – one involving a widower father denied his wife’s Social Security benefits.
She shared some thoughts about being the second female justice. Before she arrived, there was no ladies’ restroom near the robing room, so the first female justice, Sandra Day O’connor, used the one in her chambers. Once there were two females, a ladies room was hastily constructed that was as large as the men’s. Ginsburg said it was “a lonely position” when O’connor retired and she was the only woman left. More than once in conference, the male justices ignored her comments and then reacted when one of
the others said much the same thing.
“It’s a habit that had developed that you don’t expect very much from a woman, so we kind of tune out when she speaks,” she said. “But you listen when a man speaks. Now I can tell you that that experience – which I had as a member of the law faculty, as a member of a Court of Appeals – now that I have two ‘sisters in law,’ it doesn’t happen.”
Those sisters in law are Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, the nation’s third and fourth appointed female justices.
The 13,000 in attendance each had their own reasons for being there. Some probably wanted to see a Supreme Court justice and historical figure who is also, as Clinton described her, “a pop culture icon.” She’s that because of two movies about her and the attention being paid to her fitness routine. Also, she has an endearing nickname, “RBG” or “Notorious RBG,” which plays off the name of a famous rapper.
But this also was a gathering of Ginsburg admirers and Democratic voters. I’m guessing the ratio of Hillary Clinton voters to President Trump voters was about 95 to 5 (not counting those few of us who voted for someone else).
The atmosphere was positive and relaxed, there was no booing or jeering, and I don’t think Trump’s name came up once.
But when Clinton said to applause that “all of us hope that she will stay on that court forever,” it wasn’t just an expression of appreciation for Ginsburg. It probably would have accurately reflected audience members’ feelings had, instead of “forever,” he’d said, “as long as she is healthy and until President Trump is out of office and Republicans no longer control the Senate.”
That’s what next year’s election will be about as much as anything – who names her replacement, along with that of Justice Stephen Breyer, who’s 81.
Because Supreme Court justices are important, and they serve a long time. But they can’t stay on the court forever.