Ruth Bader Ginsburg


RBG at Columbia Law School

“The most remarkable thing is to hear Felicity Jones, who speaks the Queen’s English, sound very much like she was born and bred in Brooklyn,” said Ruth Bader Ginsburg of On the Basis of Sex, the 2018 movie also starring Armie Hammer.#

I enjoyed the story, in part imaginative (RGB had a hand in reviewing the script), on a flight to Italy. Thinking about it now, I'm jealous of the experience I had. My impression was of a steadfast, super smart woman who had found the right partner. 

If you're more into documentaries, there's one that came out around the same time about her life.# Ginsburg also authored a book with Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams: My Own Words.

To give you an idea of the down-to-earth tone of voice in the book:

“Did you always want to be a judge” or, more exorbitantly, “a Supreme Court justice?” Schoolchildren visiting me at the court, as they do at least weekly, ask that question more than any other. It is a sign of huge progress made. To today’s youth, judgeship as an aspiration for a girl is not at all outlandish. Contrast the ancient days, the fall of 1956, when I entered law school. Women accounted for less than 3 percent of the legal profession in the United States, and only one woman had ever served on a federal appellate court.

In 2015 circa, more than one third of federal judges were women—including three Supreme Court Justices. 24 percent of general counsels for Fortune 500 companies are women. Perhaps things came a long way during her life, but they have so much more to go.

“She had an astonishing intellectual range” seems to be a very apt observation. For the people not familiar with her work, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States since 1993.

She was also a mother. Though I didn't mention RBG's passing in this week's letter, I spoke of the power and influence of mothers on daughters. I've experienced first hand how you work twice of three times as hard and get half the credit.

My mother also taught me to be independent and to be a little distracted or, as Ginsburg says, “deaf.” It's helpful not to take the bait of an unkind word at work, or a troll comment online. I wasn't as lucky with my teachers, but did meet fantastic teachers who became reference points.

Having a champion helps a great deal:

At Columbia Law School, my professor of constitutional law and federal courts, Gerald Gunther, was determined to place me in a federal court clerkship, despite what was then viewed as a grave impediment: On graduation, I was the mother of a 4-year-old child. After heroic efforts, Professor Gunther succeeded in that mission.

I do believe in choosing the right people with whom to share your life. A companion or dear friend can be your best champion. They see you through thin and thick and choose to stick by you. It's even better when you can do the same for them.

The legal profession has lost a sharp mind, the world a kind person.

More books on Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life, by historian Jane Sherron de Hart—is very comprehensive, taking fifteen years of interviews and research. The role RBG played in bringing both the liberal and republican factions together despite their deep divisions is well developed. If you're a fan of in depth research and documentation, this book is for you.
  • In Defense of Justice: The Greatest Dissents of Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Edited and Annotated for the Non-Lawyer, by Sarah Wainwright (Author), Abigail Neffis also recent and aims to show RBG's dissents in context, historically and in terms of how they reflect Ginsburg’s life experience and jurisprudence philosophy. RBG basically lays out how she thinks a future challenge to the law at hand should be approached to get a better result from the majority of the Justices. It's essentially a blueprint, explaining the way that a future case could get a different result.

If you prefer an illustrated version of her dissents:

[Ruth Bader Ginsburg teaching at Columbia Law School, 1972. Courtesy of Columbia Law School]

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