Posted: September 28th, 2005 | By: Ann Gibbs
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reflected on her life as a law student, wife, mother, lawyer, professor and judge during a recent program sponsored by the Law School entitled "A Conversation With Justice Ginsburg". This program is part of a series at the Law School that brings role models in the legal profession to the University to discuss their professional lives. Through a skillfully-crafted interview conducted by the Law School’s Professor Suzanne Reynolds, Justice Ginsburg spoke about her early life to her role today as an associate justice on the country’s highest court.
She told the audience about her time in law school during the 1950′s where she was one of only 9 women in a class of 500 students at Harvard Law School. "You felt like all eyes were on you," she said. "If you gave a poor answer in class, you felt like it would be viewed as indicative of all female students."
She also spoke about the difficulty of finding a position as an attorney after graduating in the top of her class from Columbia Law School. "If you have typing skills, we’ll hire you as a secretary" was the common refrain from many law firms at the time. She ultimately did find employment as a lawyer and played a key role in many ground-breaking decisions defining gender-equity in the United States. When asked if we had come far enough on women’s rights today, Justice Ginsburg responded that there was more work to be done. "We haven’t reached utopia yet," she said.
Justice Ginsburg was asked by one of the students about whether she would like to see a woman nominated to fill one of the current vacancies on the court. She quickly answered, "I would not like to be the only woman on the court," but noted emphatically that gender should not be the main criteria for selection to the court. The quality of the candidate, she said, should dictate the selection, regardless of gender.
Commenting about whether Judge John Roberts was correct in refusing to answer questions during recent Senate Hearings concerning how he might rule on certain issues, she expressed support for his position. She noted that although he had only been a Federal judge for only two hears, the Senators had access to many of his memoranda and writings as a lawyer to which they could refer in order to get a flavor of his ideology.
Finally, she challenged law students in the audience to use their degrees to work for the public good. "Do your part to make the life for someone better than it would be if you were not there to aid them, " she urged. After hearing her professional life story, the audience left fully appreciating that Justice Ginsburg has dedicated her life to living up to this challenge.