Remembering US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

professor reynolds walking with justice ginsburg in venice

(Winston-Salem, N.C., September 21, 2020) — Wake Forest Law joins the nation in mourning the loss of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A fierce and devoted advocate for gender equality, Justice Ginsburg is widely considered the architect of the legal battle for women’s rights. Her work changed the world for all American women and men.

“Our country has lost a great jurist and champion of justice,” says Dean Jane Aiken. “Throughout her career and tenure in the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg fearlessly and passionately advocated for the rights of those who are least heard.”

Since 2005, Justice Ginsburg has been a dear friend to Wake Forest Law School. That year, she visited campus as a distinguished guest of the “Conversation With” Series. She shared stories from her life and career with then-Professor Suzanne Reynolds (JD ’77), and challenged the students in attendance to use their law degrees for the public good.

“Do your part to make the life of someone better than it would be if you were not there to aid them,” she said to a crowded Wait Chapel.

“After the conversation at Wait Chapel in 2005, I had the privilege of interviewing Justice Ginsburg on two other occasions,” says Dean Emerita Suzanne Reynolds. “Both times, she asked if some of her former clients might join us for dinner. She had the spirit of the great humanitarian who always remembers the lives of the people her work touches.”

Three years later, Justice Ginsburg and her husband, Martin Ginsburg, returned to the Wake Forest Law community as guest lecturers in the 2008 Venice Study Abroad Program. She taught Personal Autonomy and Equality in a Comparative Perspective with Professor Reynolds while Martin, who was then a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, taught Comparative Tax Systems with Professor Joel Newman.

“That summer, the women law students asked Justice Ginsburg if they could meet with her, alone, to discuss issues relating to women and the legal profession,” Professor Emeritus Joel Newman recalls. “Justice Ginsburg refused. She said that, when marginalized groups choose to meet only among themselves, they accomplish nothing. If they wanted to effect change, she said, they would have to include those in power in the conversation. The men were invited, and a productive meeting ensued.”

At the end of the summer, students and faculty in the program felt they had grown a lifelong friendship with the Ginsburgs. Joshua Aguilar (JD ’10), in particular, felt he had developed a close relationship with Justice Ginsburg.

“She’s now someone I know as a friend,” Aguilar said in a 2009 interview.

“The students and I were blown away by having classes in Venice with Justice Ginsburg,” recalls Dean Emerita Suzanne Reynolds. “ The consummate teacher, she made constitutional law come alive with the people whose names became the famous cases in the students’ con law books.”

In 2010, Justice Ginsburg dedicated more time to the Wake Forest Study Abroad Program. This time she traveled to Vienna, where she once again lectured and worked closely with students and faculty. The trip, too, would inspire another life-long friendship — this time with Professor Dick Schneider.

“Justice Ginsburg was profoundly inspirational to me and to our students,” says Professor Schneider, who is also the associate dean for international affairs. “Her passion and integrity in terms of getting things right and advancing the cause of equal protection were unparalleled.”

In 2012, Justice Ginsburg contributed to the Wake Forest Journal of Law & Policy symposium, “Gender and the Legal Profession: The Rise of Female Lawyers.” As the virtual keynote speaker, she spoke about the types of discrimination that female attorneys, jurors, and clients have experienced in the court system. She also talked about the work that had been done to reverse this trend.

Later that year, she returned to Vienna with Wake Forest once again. As with tradition, Justice Ginsburg shared meals with students and faculty, developing cherished friendships and memories with those in the program.

“What I treasure most about spending time with Justice Ginsburg was discovering what a wonderful person she was,” says Professor Tanya Marsh, who taught in the Vienna Summer Program in 2012. “She was not just an icon, but a kind, funny, incredibly thoughtful, and generous person. I am inspired by the memory of a woman who accomplished so much but retained such warmth, empathy, and humanity.”

In 2016, Justice Ginsburg contributed to the Venice Study Abroad Program for what would be her fourth and final trip abroad with Wake Forest Law. Professor Schneider recalls the poignancy of the stories she shared that summer.

“One of the most touching moments I ever had with Justice Ginsburg happened in the classroom in Casa Artom in Venice,” says Professor Schneider.

“I had asked the students to prepare good questions for a Q&A. One of the students asked Justice Ginsburg what she considered her greatest achievement. She immediately responded that her greatest achievement was her long and loving relationship with her husband, Marty. I think everyone almost started crying.”

In addition to lecturing and working with students, Justice Ginsburg would also preside over the mock appeal of Shylock, the Jewish moneylender in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” She and the other judges would go on to listen to nearly two hours of arguments and deliberate for nearly 20 minutes to issue the unanimous ruling to remove the question of the pound of flesh, according to the New York Times. The ruling restored Shylock’s property, restored the 3,000 ducats that he had lent to Antonio, and nullified the demand of his conversion.

The mock appeal, which was organized by Professor Dick Schneider at the request of Justice Ginsburg, was a part of a series of events hosted by Compagnia de’ Colombari and Ca ‘Foscari University of Venice.

Almost a year after the event in Venice, another mock appeal for Shylock was held. This time, Justice Ginsburg presided over the judges panel at the Library of Congress. She was joined by then-Dean Suzanne Reynolds and Professor Schneider as well as Micaela del Monte from the European Parliament and former U.S. Ambassador to the OECD and congresswoman from Maryland Connie Morella.

“Justice Ginsburg is fascinated by literature, especially drama, and by the power of literature to give us new perspectives on the lives we lead,” Professor Dick Schneider said in a 2017 interview. “She threw herself into the Shylock appeal with her usual energy and passion, which meant we had a great event.”

Alumnus Michael Klotz (JD ’15) also participated in the mock appeal, advocating on behalf of Shylock.

Over the years, Justice Ginsburg has gone out of her way to meet with Wake Forest Law students and alumni. In fact, it has become somewhat of a Wake Forest Law tradition to meet with her during swearing-in ceremonies in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday, September 18, 2020, due to complications from metastatic cancer of the pancreas, according to a statement issued by the U.S. Supreme Court. She was 87.

View a selection of photos of Justice Ginsburg with members of the Wake Forest Law community at wfu.law/RGB.

This article was updated on Monday, September 28, 2020, to include a quote from Professor Emeritus Joel Newman.