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What I will remember about Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Uploaded: Sep 21, 2020
During my junior year in college, I decided to take a course on the Supreme Court, knowing too little about this branch of government. The very first question the professor asked each of: "Write down the names of the court justices." I put down two names, much to my personal embarrassment.

It was a marvelous course, the concepts of which have stayed with me ever since. When President Clinton appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the court in 1993, I was absorbed in her background, her advocacy for women's rights, her push for equality for both men and women -- and our unknowing virtually shared experiences.

When the first female justice, Sandra Day O'Connor, a Stanford magna cum laude and Stanford Law School graduate, wrote about the difficulties she had finding a paying job as an attorney because of her gender, I knew what she was talking about. She finally found one as deputy county attorney in San Mateo, after she agreed to work for no salary and without an office, sharing space with a secretary. Would that have happened to a male Stanford Law School grad?

Ginsburg had a similar story. As an undergraduate at Harvard Law, she encountered a very male-dominated, hostile environment with only eight females in a class of 500. The women were accused by the dean himself of taking the places of qualified males. Nevertheless, she made it through easily, and became the first female member of the prestigious Harvard Law Review.

After graduation, Ginsburg continued to encounter gender discrimination while seeking employment. She said he had three things against her: she was a woman, she was a mother, and she was Jewish.

When I was looking for my first job in Washington, D.C., shortly after my graduation and marriage, the inevitable third question I was asked in any interview was, "Do you plan on having any children and when?" My honest response was, "We're just married, and we hadn't thought about it, but I am Catholic so I don't know what the "when" answer is." Only one job offer came through after many, many interviews.

Ginsburg's (I will call her Ruth) quest for the same treatment for both men and women (like don't ask just women if they plan to have children) has helped women since my early days at work, assisting me to feel entitled enough to have significant place in the workplace. (Maybe that was why in high school I refused to take typing, shorthand or home ec courses most girls were told to take.)

One of the times this notion that women can/should work became apparent was when Astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to land and walk on the moon, was coming back home. His wife was being interviewed with the usual trivial wifely questions by a reporter: "What will you serve him for dinner?' "How are you preparing for his homecoming?"

"I’m putting flowers all around the house for him to enjoy," she responded.

Great, I thought. Her husband had just been the first man to land on the moon, as part of his job, and his wife was arranging flowers. There's got to be more to a woman's life than placing daisies and roses in vases.

I started working when my youngest of four entered kindergarten -- part-time that first year, and then full-time for the next 40 or so years. I had no choice intellectually -- I had to do it -- as so many women had to and still want and need to. And then when I was divorced, the impetus to work also became a financial imperative. Back then in 1975, if a woman was "working," then the courts said she could only get 40 percent of her husband's income, despite the fact his income was two-and-one-half the size of mine. So the money the six of us were living on became was reduced by 60 percent for the five of us to live on, plus my meager income. (I had custody).

That case never came to court, but I am sure Ruth would have understood and righted the male judicial thinking.

So all went well. I did what I had to do. Any my four sons turned out to be well-balanced, industrious, kind, successful adults.

She did what she had to do, and was successful. She persuaded her eight male colleagues to allow women to enter the Virginia Military Institute. She fought for women's rights, for equal pay, she was instrumental in passing Roe v. Wade, etc. etc.

But I like her words best. As she once declared, "Inherent difference between men and women, we have come to appreciate, remain cause for celebration, but not for denigration of the members of either sex or for artificial constraints on an individual's opportunity."

Thank you, Ruth. I hope your words and messages are long remembered.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Ardan Michael Blum, a resident of Downtown North,
on Sep 21, 2020 at 6:44 pm

Ardan Michael Blum is a registered user.

So beautiful! Added a link to your post from Web Link - my page here on paloaltoonline.com (sharing memories of RBG).

Posted by Ardan Michael Blum, a resident of Downtown North,
on Sep 21, 2020 at 6:46 pm

Ardan Michael Blum is a registered user.

Correction. Pls See: Web Link

Posted by ALB, a resident of College Terrace,
on Sep 21, 2020 at 8:58 pm

ALB is a registered user.

Thank you Diana for your personal account. I remember in the summer of 1966 my mom insisted that I go to summer school at Wilbur Jr. High. She said you can take any course you want but you must take a typing course. I thought why should I take typing. She said when you get to college you will need to type your papers. My mom was a star. One of two women to graduate in 1953 from Stanford's Medical school. The other woman was the daughter of the dean and did not require a Masters degree. My mother taught anatomy in the medical school to mostly male students until her early death in 1970. She was a pioneer. She said some of the medical students would clown around and some were disrespectful. She was angry when the male students would pin a joke onto a cadaver. She put up with a lot. She was dignified and a beautiful woman.

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Sep 21, 2020 at 11:32 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

Diana, Thank you so much for your wonderful column, which I enjoy reading every week. Thank you in particular for sharing your experience with Justice Ginsburg. It was a touching and moving account of an amazing woman who changed so many lives for the better, like yours, and like mine.

If it's ok, I would like to share one way that RBG impacted my life as well.

The first time I met Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Z''l) (zikhronah livrakhah, of Blessed Memory), she was not yet a Supreme Court Justice. The year was 1991, and I was a second year law student at Harvard Law School. I had just learned that I was a newly selected editor of the The Harvard Law Review, and entrance to this exclusive reception with Judge Ginsburg of the Court of Appeals of the DC Circuit was the first of many invitation-only Law Review networking events to follow. It was exciting but somewhat overwhelming stuff for me, a Wisconsin native who earned my spending money as a cocktail waitress while attending college at Stanford.

There I was at the reception in a meeting hall at Harvard Law School, underdressed, waiting to have an opportunity to shake Judge Ginsburg's hand. I wanted to thank her for her amazing work expanding the reach of the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection under the law to protect women, mostly by filing lawsuits on behalf of men. I had many questions about this strategy of using men as plaintiffs. How did she choose her fact patterns? How did she gauge her timing? Does she still recommend these types of subversive yet effective strategies? So many questions!

Unfortunately, reaching Judge Ginsburg's ear proved challenging. My fellow Law Review editors - an overwhelmingly male bunch - demonstrated an interest I never observed in them prior to that day: an interest in hearing a woman speak. These male editors treated the opportunity to monopolize Judge Ginsburg's attention exactly as they treated everything else: a competitive sport -- manners, morality, and common courtesy be d*mned.

I stood in a semi-circle around Judge Ginsburg with these competitive, newly-interested-in-hearing-a woman-speak men, waiting for my turn to talk. I waited, and waited, and waited. Every time I tried to ask a question, one of the men cut me off, interrupting me and speaking over me. It was embarrassing, insulting, and frustrating. I was ready to give up.

Finally, Judge Ginsburg stopped answering the men's questions. She took a breath, looked at my name tag, and asked, “Rebecca, what are your thoughts?" And all of a sudden the 100 questions I had collected in my mind, lining up for consideration for when I finally had a chance to say something, vanished. I smiled. The Judge noticed me. She wanted to hear me. At that moment, I had no questions. I only had joy.

Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg saw the men try to silence me. She gave me a voice.

This was the experience that came to my mind when in August, 1993, shortly after my law school graduation, I read that President Bill Clinton had elevated Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court. I marveled at the thought of how many voices RBG could validate on the Highest Court of the land. I sat down, and I cried.

During her 27 years on the Supreme Court, RBG gave countless silenced people a voice. She gave a voice to all women and children, whom the law continues to overlook. She gave a voice to people of color facing discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, and language. She gave a voice to the disabled community, to working families, to low wage workers, to victims of environmental injustice, and to the LGBTQIA+ community. She gave a voice to everyone everywhere who has been exploited by unfair laws, and who have been silenced by a broken, stacked capitalism, white supremacy, and the patriarchy that tried so hard to hold her back - but failed.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did her incredibly important work up until the day she died -- the last day of the Jewish Year 5780. At one of the vigils that my husband Curtis and I attended to mourn the Justice's passing, Cantor Jaime Shpall from our beloved Congregation Beth Am remarked that Justice Ginsburg's passing on the last day of the Jewish Year demonstrates how truly holy RBG was. I agree.

I also hope, deeply, that RBG's passing on the last day of 5780 can serve as a bookend to a year that was genuinely, on all accounts, unprecedentedly disastrous. I hope that Justice Ginsburg's passing in 5780 can signal the start of a much better year, and much better times, for all of us -- but in particular for the people that RBG served each and every day: the silenced.

Whether positive change comes tomorrow, or whether it takes a little longer, I know that we all can agree that the memory of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be a blessing to us all, always.

Todah Rabah, Shofetet Bader Ginsburg. Hayita Orah tamid tizerakh. And: L'Shanah Tovah Umetukah.

Posted by Squidsie, a resident of another community,
on Sep 22, 2020 at 9:50 am

Squidsie is a registered user.

If SCOTUS would limit itself to just interpreting the actual language of the Constitution, instead of just using the Constitution as some sort of talisman to cite as authority when enacting their preferred policies, we would be able to celebrate Ginsberg's impressive career and accomplishments without heat and rancor. But since SCOTUS functions as the ultimate policy maker in the country, her death has created a power vacuum which partisans are scrambling to fill, with the accompanying ideologically-driven anger and bitterness.

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