When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruther Bader Ginsburg was growing up, her mother always stressed the importance of being a lady -- an independent lady.
Ginsburg, who made major headway in the women’s rights movement while working for the American Civil Liberties Union in the 1970’s, said her father realized the importance of being independent, too. It just took him a little longer.
“I think my father realized later that my mother would have had a fuller life if she’d been gainfully employed outside of the home,” the justice said Thursday night during an interview at Hastings.
UC-Hastings Professor Joan Williams, who heads up the school’s Center for Work-Life Law, asked Ginsburg questions about case law and the development of the justice’s career for almost two hours, stopping herself only before it got too “wonky.” Ginsburg told a rapt audience of students and staff that she had been “very lucky” to be involved, as the founder of the ACLU's Women's Rights Project, in briefing 1971's Reed v. Reed, where the high court for the first time extended the equal protection clause to women, and said the successful result could be attributed in part to a change in national mood -- it was the right time for progress.
Ginsburg said the work isn’t done, though, and perhaps the secret to true equality lies in not just changing female stereotypes, but male ones, too.
“If I were to invent an affirmative action plan, it would be to give [men] a greater incentive to be closer to children,” she said. Ginsburg spoke fondly of the most significant man in her life -- lawyer and professor Martin Ginsburg, who died last year. Ginsburg also spoke fondly of the other justices on the court and “the high level of civility” at her workplace.
During her two bouts with cancer, Ginsburg said “everyone cared for and took care” of her –- Chief Justice William Rehnquist even gave up authoring an opinion in a case he wanted to save for himself, after Ginsburg told him she wanted to get back to work.
But Ginsburg isn’t sure she’d be appointed to the highest court again, were she have to face a confirmation hearing in the current Congress. She said a “truly bipartisan spirit” in the legislature resulted in her confirmation in 1993. According to her, then-President Bill Clinton called Senate judiciary committee member Orrin Hatch to ask him if it would be OK with a Ginsburg nomination.
Ginsburg’s hopes for her legacy are just as ladylike and humble as she characterizes her beginnings.
“I would just like people to think of me as a judge who did the best she could,” she said.