As you no doubt know by now, on Friday U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away. My friend, Judge Arlene Singer and I were asked to comment on her recent death. Although I had the privilege of meeting several Supreme Court justices during my career, I regret that Justice Ginsburg was not among them. A lodestar of our profession, she made an impact on my life as she did on that of other lawyers, whether women or men. According to the New York Times, she was the most admired of all the current justices. Her legacy will endure every time we in the profession stand for civility, equality and compassion.
Arlene prepared these remarks that I can’t improve upon:
She changed the lives of all.
Reportedly shy, this diminutive person wielded a mighty pen with her towering intellect and robust sense of justice, fairness and compassion. She fought tirelessly to break down the barriers to equality and to champion women's rights.
As a law student and lawyer she felt the sting of gender bias, even hiding a pregnancy to keep employment opportunities. She graduated at the top of her class at Columbia Law School. Unable to find employment in the private sector, she accepted employment teaching. She was Columbia’s first tenured female professor. As a pioneer in the field, she didn't stop there.
As Director of the Women's Law Project of the ACLU, she made her mark. She argued 6 cases before the US Supreme court, winning 5 of them. Choosing her cases carefully and strategically she fed the idea of gender equality to the justices in little bites, until gender bias was finally recognized. She included cases taking up the cause of men who were harmed by biased gender roles and unequal treatment of widowers and male caregivers. As an important advocate who changed the playing field for us all, she didn't stop there.
Her judicial career culminated in appointment to the US Supreme Court, the second women on the Court. Her opinions exposed inequities in the law based on gender and race. But her fiery dissents, written for the ages, catapulted her to iconic status. She was respected and liked by her colleagues, even if they didn't agree with her. In more recent years she achieved rock star status as the Notorious RBG, whose image adorns t-shirts, bobble heads, coffee mugs and even tattoos.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg made a difference as a fighter for equality and as a role model for all, but for women and girls especially. Justice Ginsburg inspired us to be strong in our beliefs, principles and actions with compassion and respect.