A living legend among progressive lawyers and liberal political activists, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke at NYU Law School yesterday afternoon before students and faculty. It is the first time NYU Law has hosted a Supreme Court Justice since hosting Sonia Sotomayor in November 2016.
Ginsburg’s appearance was the latest installment of NYU Law’s Center for Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging speaker series. Her appearance was co-sponsored by three organizations within NYU Law: the Birnbaum Women’s Leadership Network, Law Women and the Women of Color Collective. The event was structured in a Q&A format with Professor of Constitutional Law Kenji Yoshino moderating the event.
Due to overwhelming interest in the event from NYU Law students, not all registered attendees were able to find seats in the John L. Tishman Auditorium, the facility in which Ginsburg spoke; therefore, event organizers set up a seperate room for excess attendees to watch the event on a live stream.
When Ginsburg, the Justice known affectionately as “Notorious R.B.G.” and who recently developed a strong pop culture presence, first entered Tishman Auditorium, she was welcomed by raucous applause and a standing ovation. Yoshino’s opening comments mirrored the audience’s excitement.
“If there ever was a person in life who needed no introduction, it’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” he said to the audience.
Throughout the conversation, Ginsburg spoke on a variety of topics. The Justice was modest, humored and self-deprecating, drawing plenty of laughs from attendees. At the start of the conversation, she spoke in favor of heavy abortion rights for women, and expressed support for the contemporary #MeToo movement.
Ginsburg spoke on the relationship between men and women on the Supreme Court. While acknowledging that male judges more often than not cut into female judges’ comments and questions, she said this notion has not altered her courtroom behavior. Moreover, she spoke of the period in which she served as the sole female justice in the Supreme Court for four years during the 2000s.
“The worst period was when I was lone woman on the court, when there were eight rather well-fed men, and there was little me,” Ginsburg said, drawing more laughter and applause.
However, Ginsburg feels that times have improved since that point, and expressed admiration for her two fellow female Supreme Court Justices — Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
“Anyone who observes court proceedings will confirm that my female colleagues are not shrinking violets,” she said.
Ginsburg reminisced on her experience in law school, in which she was one of nine female students in a class of 500 students. While claiming that women still have progress to make in the field of law, she acknowledged that women have made significant strides in the field since her own time in law school. In discussing this progress, she praised then-President Jimmy Carter for opening the door in his appointing female and minority judges and justices.
Pulling out her “pocket Constitution” to the delight of the audience, Ginsburg additionally spoke in support of adding an “equal-protection” amendment to the constitution that would constitutionally ensure equal legal treatment for men and women.
“I want my granddaughters to see what are the fundamental tenets of our society,” Ginsburg said. “There is nothing in the Constitution that says that men and women are people of equal citizenship stature.”
Ginsburg closed the conversation with a brief reminiscing of her well-documented friendship with conservative former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. She attributed their bipartisan friendship to the collaborative structure of the Supreme Court, in addition to their shared love for opera and their ability to make one another laugh.
“An important consideration is the welfare of the institution you work,” Ginsburg said, discussing the potential for bipartisan friendships in the workplace. “The Supreme Court is the most collegial atmosphere of anywhere else I’ve worked, because we all revere the Constitution and the judiciary, which pulls us together.”
NYU Law students expressed their gratitude and respect, both for the conversation and for the Justice herself.
“Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” NYU Law student Christine said. “I’m so glad that we had this opportunity.”
Senior Director of Hospitality and Food Services Bruce White, who helped coordinate the event, was impressed by the high rates of registration and attendance from NYU Law students.
“It was really inspiring,” White said. “We had students lining up at 1:30 [p.m.] for a 4:30 [p.m.] event, and about 300 students lined up by 2:00 [p.m.].”
The seemingly universal support and adoration for Ginsburg at NYU Law was reflected concisely by Yoshino when thanking the Justice for attending.
“Ruth Bader Ginsburg, no tribute can be made to you that exceeds your merit,” he said.
Email Alex Domb at [email protected]