RBG holds court before 13,000 in North Lit­tle Rock

The Saline Courier - - OPINION - ••• Steve Brawner is a syn­di­cated colum­nist in Arkansas. Email him at brawn­er­[email protected] Follow him on Twit­ter at @steve­brawner.

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.

STEVE BRAWNER

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