Conversation with Ruth Bader Ginsburg: US Supreme Court Justice Live at UChicago

[APPLAUSE] RUTH BADER GINSBURG: Thank you. Thank you very much. Everyone, please,
please be seated. [APPLAUSE] Thank you. Let’s all sit down. HILARIE KOPLOW-MCADAMS:
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for that warm welcome. We have such a wonderful
guest of honor today. It’s my great pleasure
to welcome members of the University of Chicago
and the community of the Harris School of Public Policy to a
conversation with the United States Supreme Court
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. My name is Hilarie
Koplow-McAdams, and I am both an alumna
of the Harris School and chair of the Harris Council. And it’s a singular honor
today on this great occasion to be recognizing Justice
Ginsburg for her lifetime of contribution to our society. Thank you all for joining
us here at the Logan Center and to those of you
who have joined us from the Keller Center
via livestream and beyond. Today’s program features
a conversation moderated by Dean Katherine Baicker,
exploring US Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg’s
life and career as well as questions of
public policy and the law. In the interest of making
our program interactive, we will be having Q&A at
the end of the program and we will be capturing your
questions throughout the event by leveraging a little mobile
phone application called Slido. And I think there should be a
slide behind me that shows you how to get access
to that application. If not, we’ll hand
out note cards so that you can
submit your questions. But now for the
sake of time, I’ll offer very brief introductions
to our featured speakers. You can find their
full biographies in the program handout that
you received as you entered. First, I’ll introduce
Dean Katherine Baicker– our very own. Katherine Baicker, the
Dean of the Harris School of Public Policy and
Emmett Dedmon Professor is a leading scholar in
the economic analysis of health policy with
research focusing on the effects of health system
reform on health spending, outcomes, and disparities. From 2005 to 2007,
she served as a senate confirmed member of the
President’s Council of Economic Advisors. Under her leadership,
the Harris School has emerged as the second
largest professional school at the University
of Chicago inspiring the next generation of
data-driven policymaking leaders looking to
have a social impact. Our next guest doesn’t
really need an introduction as many of you know her already. And more importantly,
so many of us are the beneficiaries
of her important work. However, as a refresher,
we’re joined today by US Supreme Court Justice
Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Ginsburg has served on
the United States Supreme Court for more than 25 years. She was nominated to the court
by President Bill Clinton and she took her seat
on August 10, 1993. She was previously appointed
as a judge of the United States Court of Appeals
for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1980. Justice Ginsburg is
also our 2019 recipient of the Harris Dean’s Award. Exemplifying the mission of the
Harris School of Public Policy, this award is given annually
to an exceptional leader who has championed analytic rigor,
evidence-based approaches to policy, and who is an
example for the next generation of policy leaders and scholars. And frankly, I couldn’t
think of a better recipient. Dean Baicker, I
hand it over to you. KATHERINE BAICKER:
Thank you, Hilarie. [APPLAUSE] Thank you all for being here. It is the thrill of a
lifetime to get to facilitate this conversation. And I have to tell you I did
not know how many friends I had in Chicago– [LAUGHTER] –until this event
was announced, and then all sorts of
people wanted tickets. So I’m delighted
to have you here and those of you who
are watching remotely. And I’m so happy to be
so popular in Chicago. Justice Ginsburg, there
are so many questions that I would like to ask you and
that I know the audience would like to ask you. But I’d like to start with
something very straightforward. How has the court changed in the
years that you’ve been on it? RUTH BADER GINSBURG: One
way it hasn’t changed– the court is the most collegial
place I’ve ever worked. More collegial than both law
faculties on which I served. [LAUGHTER] First, Rutgers, then Columbia. Even more collegial
than the DC Circuit. Collegiality is very
important in our workplace, because we couldn’t do the job
that the Constitution assigns to us unless we
work well together. So the press tends to come– to concentrate on our divisions,
on our 5-3 or 5-4 decisions. But every year in the now 26
years I’ve served on the court, we always agree more
often than we disagree. So the 5-4 rate this
last term was about 20%. But the unanimity rate, at least
in the bottom line judgment, was 29%. So in that respect, the
court hasn’t changed. One important way it has
changed is the perception of the court by the audience,
including the 10-minute line of children who stream
in and out to observe for a brief time. When I was a new
justice, people had become accustomed to there
being a woman on the US Supreme Court. And that woman was
Sandra Day O’Connor who was the lone
woman for 12 years. So every now and then
when I asked a question, the response would
be Justice O’Connor. [LAUGHTER] And then Sandra might say, I’m
Justice O’Connor, she’s Justice Ginsburg. We don’t look alike. [LAUGHTER] We don’t talk alike. But they heard a woman’s voice– they knew there was
a woman in the court. It’s not that way any longer,
because I’ve been there so long I sit next to the chief. And to the left some seats
down is Justice Sotomayor. And to the right Justice Kagan. We’re all over the bench. We’re one third of the bench. And people who have observed
arguments at the court will have noticed
that my sisters in law are not shrinking violets. [LAUGHTER] They participate
actively in the colloquy that goes on at oral argument. And in the years that
Justice Scalia was with us, it was a competition between
Justice Sotomayor and Justice Scalia who could ask the most
questions at oral argument. [LAUGHTER] KATHERINE BAICKER:
Well, you, of course, have a famous friendship
with Justice Scalia that has been commemorated
in comedic operas, has been the topic
of documentaries. Do you have advice for
rising policymakers in the audience about how to
reach across divides of opinion or principle and work with
someone whose opinion you may disagree with but whom
you value as a colleague and respect? RUTH BADER GINSBURG: One of
the reasons I was so fond of Justice Scalia is he had
an infectious sense of humor. The first time I heard him
speak he was on the faculty– the law faculty of the
University of Chicago. And he was speaking on some
administrative law topic. I disagreed with a lot
of what he said but I was charmed by the way he said it. And then when we worked
together on the DC Circuit, the bench was three judges. He would sometimes whisper
to me during oral argument, and what he said
was so funny I had all I could do to
keep from bursting out into hysterical laughter. You mentioned that we
shared a passion for opera. We both cared a
lot about families. And we also cared about
not only getting it right as we saw the right,
but writing an opinion that at least other lawyers
and judges could understand. So Justice Scalia worked
very hard on his opinions. So did I. Our styles
were not at all alike. He was a fine grammarian. He was the son of a
father who taught Latin at Brooklyn College
and his mother was a grade school teacher. So every once in a while
he would stop by chambers or call me on the
telephone and say, Ruth, you committed a
grammatical error. [LAUGHTER] I don’t want to embarrass
you by circulating my comment to the court,
but you should fix it. [LAUGHTER] And I in return
would sometimes say, this opinion is so strident. You will be more persuasive
if you toned it down. And that advice he never took. [LAUGHTER] We were supers together at
the Washington National Opera. We traveled together
on judicial exchanges, most famously in
India where there is a photograph of
the two of us riding on a very elegant elephant. My feminist friends
commented, why are you sitting in the back of the elephant? And I said, well,
the driver said it had something to do with
the distribution of weight. [LAUGHTER] The comic opera
Scalia/Ginsburg– again, why Scalia first? Because seniority really
matters in our workplace and he was appointed to the
court some years before I was. So I miss him very much. Our conferences
are not as lively as they were when
he was with us. KATHERINE BAICKER:
Well, you mentioned having first met him here at
the University of Chicago. And another one of
your former colleagues, Justice John Paul Stevens,
was also a U Chicago alum. And he’s written
about amendments– he had written about
amendments that he’d like to see to the US Constitution. You’ve spoken eloquently about
the Equal Rights Amendment. I wondered what
changes you’d like to see to our constitution. RUTH BADER GINSBURG:
Well, first, it’s largely a dream because
our constitution is powerfully hard to women. I know that from experience,
both with the Equal Rights Amendment and the amendment
that would give DC representation in Congress. So I suppose I would
agree with most of the items on
Justice Stevens’ list, including the electoral college. But I think it’s more
theoretical than real– the prospect that we will
have amendments of the kind. I think he also included
Citizens United campaign financing on his list. KATHERINE BAICKER:
You worked tirelessly for women’s rights in the years
before you joined the court. Has the trajectory
of women’s rights evolved over the last 40 years
as you would have imagined? What’s surprising to you? What work do you think
still needs to be done? What are some of
the highs and lows? RUTH BADER GINSBURG:
In the 1970s, when I was litigating
gender discrimination cases, our target was fear. The law books of the
country and the states were just riddled with
gender-based classifications. And our mission in the
’70s was to get rid of all the overt
gender-based classifications. Classifications
that, by the way, most of the judges
I addressed thought operated benignly
in women’s favor. So in contrast to
race discrimination, which everyone recognized was
odious, most of the judges thought that women
were favored by the law if they were treated
differently as a preference. So, for example,
women weren’t called for jury duty in many states. The reason they shouldn’t be
distracted from their duties as the homemaker and
the rearer of children. There was a famous case in 1948. The State of Michigan had
passed a law barring women from serving as bartenders
unless their husband or father owned the establishment. So the case was brought by
two women, the Goesaerts. The mother owned the tavern. Her daughter was a bartender. And this law would have put them
immediately out of business. Women had come into
bartending roles as others during World
War II when there was a short supply of men. So women took over jobs that had
once been the province of men. And then I think it
was the Bartenders Union that wanted to get the
women out of the business. So Michigan passed this law. And when it came to
the Supreme Court, the court treated it almost
as a joke, made references to Chaucer’s old ale wife. But the point was that
bars can sometimes be rowdy places and women
needed the protection of the father or the husband. The court never
noticed that there was no restriction on barmaids,
the ones who carried the drinks to the table, with rowdy men. But the one who was
shielded behind the bar was out of a job. The end of that
story is a good one, because the liquor
commission in Michigan decided even though they had
this victory in the Supreme Court, they were not
going to enforce the law. So no woman lost her
job as a bartender as a result of that decision. Or later, in 1961,
Gwendolyn Hoyt’s case. Gwendolyn Hoyt was a woman– we would today call her abused. One day her philandering,
abusive husband had humiliated her to
the breaking point. She spied her son’s baseball
bat in the corner of the room. She lifted it up and
with all her might she hit him over the head. He fell against the stone floor. End of their
altercation, beginning of the murder prosecution. Gwendolyn Hoyt was from
Hillsborough County in Florida, where women were
not put on the jury rolls. If they wanted to
serve, they could come to the clerk’s
office and volunteer. But if they didn’t volunteer,
they weren’t called. And the Supreme Court’s reaction
to that case as late as 1961 was women have the
best of both worlds. If they want to serve, they can. But if they don’t want
to, we won’t distract them from their home duties. You could imagine how Gwendolyn
Hoyt reacted to that decision. I mean, her notion was
perhaps a jury including women wouldn’t
acquit me, but they might convict me of the
lesser crime of manslaughter instead of murder. She was, in fact, convicted
of murder by an all-male jury. That was the, quote, “liberal
Warren Court decision.” 10 years later, in
1971, the Supreme Court turns in a new direction. Burger is then
the Chief Justice. And in that decade, in case
after case, the Supreme Court struck down gender
lines in the law based on the then prevailing
separate spheres notion that the man was the
breadwinner who counted, the women were
responsible for the home and raising the children. So typical examples–
social security. Male wage earner dies, there
are benefits for his widow. Female wage earner dies, no
benefits for the widower. That kind of distinction
pigeonholing people in roles based on
gender was almost gone. There are very, very few
explicit gender lines in the law. And all that happened
during the years of the so-called
conservative Burger court. My explanation for
why it happened is that society had changed
and the court was catching up to the way people were living. So the two-earner family had
become commonplace in the ’60s and continuing into the ’70s. The time was ripe for the
change that the court made. KATHERINE BAICKER: So in
thinking about the court catching up with society
and the stability of the law versus the
evolution of the law, the principle of
stare decisis is often used to govern which
cases the court takes in thinking about
whether something is a matter of settled law or not. And it seems as though
there is a balancing act between having a stable
legal, political, regulatory environment for people
to make decisions and having the law
evolve to match a different society
and a different culture and different times. It also seems as
though the people who call on that
principle are often motivated by their view of
whether the law is currently in the right place or not. But it’s very much in
the eye of the beholder. What’s your view on how
stable the law should be and how that
principle should drive the evolution of the law along
with or behind social change? RUTH BADER GINSBURG: Well, when
the law is just plain wrong– [LAUGHTER] –as it was in gender
classifications– holding people back, creating
artificial barriers to the ability of a person
to realize her own potential. One of the important
cases that was decided– it was decided in– it was the end of Justice
O’Connor’s first year on the court, so it
would have been 1982. The case was titled
Hogan v. University of Michigan School for Women– University of Mississippi
School for Women. And there was a
young man, Hogan, who wanted to be a nurse. The best nurses training
was available at Mississippi University for Women. But he was turned down
because he was the wrong sex. The dissenters in that case saw
the reservation of the school to women as a kind of
affirmative action. But Justice O’Connor
understood that there is nothing that will
upgrade salaries in the nursing profession
more than having men– [LAUGHTER] –want to do that job. So she wrote a
very fine opinion. Our target was plain. Our job was relatively easy
because these classifications were overt. What’s left after
the job has been done of clearing
the statute books of explicit gender-based
discrimination is what is sometimes
called unconscious bias. The symphony orchestra
is one example of that. Growing up I never saw
a woman except perhaps playing the harp. Howard Taubman, who was a fine
critic for The New York Times, said, blindfold me
and I can tell you if it’s a woman playing
the piano or a man. So they did. [LAUGHTER] And he was all mixed up. To his credit, he
recognized that when he saw a woman coming on stage,
he had a lesser expectation than he did for a man. Someone then got the
bright idea, well, why not drop a
curtain so the people who are conducting
the audition won’t see the people who are
applicants for the position. And close to overnight,
you saw a change in the makeup of
symphony orchestras. That simple device to drop
a curtain, which sadly we can’t duplicate in all
fields of human endeavor. So one of my favorite cases
from the ’70s– the late ’70s– was a Title VII case. Title VII is our principal
anti-discrimination in employment law. It was against AT&T
for not promoting women to middle management jobs. The women did fine on
all the standard criteria until the very last one, which
was called a total person test. And the total person
test was an interviewer sitting down with the
candidate for promotion and having a conversation. Women dropped out
disproportionately. Why? Because the male interviewer
confronting someone who looked like himself– there was a certain
rapport, he understood what this person was like. But if it’s someone from
another race or if it’s a woman, there’s a certain
discomfort level. The interviewer doesn’t really
know what makes this person– what kind of person she is. So his discomfort–
his own discomfort is reflected in the
score that he gives. There was a very good case– it was also in the ’70s– by the European
Court of Justice, which is the highest court
for the European Union. And it was about a
province in Germany that had a rule for
public sector jobs that if the field is one that
had been dominated by men and there were two candidates– one male, the other female– and they’re roughly
equal in qualifications, prefer the female. And the way that was explained
was this is not really a preference for women. It is making up for
the unconscious bias of the decision-maker,
of the one who selects the person for the job. So unconscious bias remains
less than it once was, but it is there and
it is an impediment. The other is what’s been
called a work-life balance. How do we order the work
life so that a person can have a home
life as well and be part of raising the children? Women still disproportionately
take care of the home and the raising of the
children, but it’s changing. And I see it in my own son. I see it in my law clerks. The years I was
on the DC Circuit, I received a
clerkship application from a man who explained that
he was going to Georgetown at night because his
wife was an economist, had a good job at
the World Bank, and so he was the
primary custodian of their two young children. I will admit also that
what attracted me to him is his writing sample was
not a law review note. It was his first-year
legal writing paper which was the idea of
contract as played out in Wagner’s Ring Cycle. [LAUGHTER] Anyway, so he’s
clerking for me and he has to pick up his daughter
and have soccer practice. I asked the then Chief
Justice Rehnquist– this is very early days. There wasn’t yet the internet. This is in ’93 to ’94. And I asked the Chief,
can this law clerk have access to Lexis
and Westlaw at home? Absolutely not. They have to be on the premises. The next year, every law
clerk, parent or not, had access to Lexis
and Westlaw at home. And I think every
one of my colleagues has had many law
clerks who are parents. The law clerks meet every
Thursday for happy hour. And we go out on the patio
and join them sometimes. Their happy hour is filled
with children of the clerks. KATHERINE BAICKER:
So you’ve mentioned these are some aspects
of the way the work is done that have changed. But you’ve mentioned that
the collegiality of the court has not changed over
these many years. Your confirmation hearings
looked very different from the confirmation
hearings that we see today. Do you think that the
confirmation process is in need of reform? And if so, how do we
move past finger-pointing to real changes
in the procedures? RUTH BADER GINSBURG:
I was the beneficiary of a true bipartisan spirit
that was prevailing in Congress and so was my colleague
Stephen Breyer who was appointed in 1994. Senator Biden chaired the
Senate Judiciary Committee, but my biggest supporter on
the committee was Orrin Hatch. My White House handlers in
preparation for the hearing would ask me questions like,
you were general counsel to the ACLU from 1973 to 1980. During that time,
the ACLU adopted this or that resolution,
how did you vote? And I said stop. Just stop because
there’s nothing that you can do that would lead
me to be critical of the ACLU. And at the hearing,
not a single senator asked about my ACLU
connection, although I was one of four general counsel. I was on the board. I co-founded the ACLU
Women’s Rights Project. Not one question. That wouldn’t happen today. There were only
three negative votes. Things have changed. So it’s– and it shows up
on both sides of the aisle. My now chief, Chief
Justice Roberts, had all the qualifications one
could want in a Supreme Court Justice– a number of negative
votes from Democrats. And my excellent colleagues,
Sotomayor and Kagan, again, multiple negative votes. Divisions along party lines. I don’t know what it
will take, but we really should get back to the way
it was when people were examining the qualifications
of someone to be a judge rather than trying to
guess how they would vote on contentious cases. Maybe there will be
great states people on both sides of
the aisle who will say enough of this nonsense. Let’s do the work
that we were elected to do for all of the people
of the United States. I hope I will see that
restoration in my lifetime. [APPLAUSE] KATHERINE BAICKER: Hear, hear. So following up on the
idea of the things that have changed in society and
the evolution of the law in response to that, there are
many constitutional provisions that focus on the
power of government but there really
aren’t any that focus on the power of corporations. And that’s changed a
lot over the centuries. People think about the power
of corporations in anti-trust and pricing, or about
in technology, privacy, and the flow of information. The courts have had to
weigh in on donations to political campaigns
and on imposition of religious beliefs. Has the law– is
the law as it stands able to deal with issues of
corporations and their power? Oh, I see. These are my audience
questions, which is a cue that we’re almost done here. [LAUGHTER] With the power of corporations– or is there a need
for the law to adjust to the modern reality of the
way we all live our lives? RUTH BADER GINSBURG:
Well, I think that the law can adjust very well. I mean, it has. You mentioned anti-trust. What was considered
in restraint of trade at the end of the 19th century
is not necessarily the same as it is today. So these are laws that were
meant to govern society as it changes. Do I think that the law– yes, certainly the law
and the court decisions can deal with the problems
of large corporations. One case that you may
have thought of that does empower corporations is
Citizens United and campaign spending. But Justice John
Paul Stevens wrote a wonderful dissent in that case
which I joined, which I hope will someday be the accepted
view of the controls that are appropriately
put on campaign spending. KATHERINE BAICKER:
Speaking of your dissents, you have been clearly
very well-known for your powerful dissents and
have become a cultural icon beyond any other
justice that I’m aware of in movies, The
Notorious RBG, in opera. I have– I can’t help but be
a prop comic for a moment. I have here a Ruth Bader
Ginsburg bobble-head. [LAUGHTER] I might be wearing Ruth
Bader Ginsburg socks. [LAUGHTER] How has rising to the
status of cultural icon affected your view of your
role in society not just on the court? RUTH BADER GINSBURG:
The Notorious RBG was created by a second-year
student at New York University Law School. She got the idea when the
court decided the Shelby County case that declared invalid a
key portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The act required states,
sometimes counties, sometimes municipalities that
in the bad old days had kept African-Americans from voting– those units could not
enact voting legislation unless it was precleared either
with the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division or a
three judge district court in the District of Columbia. That preclearance system
was working very well keeping lots of
laws off the books– laws that were
designed to keep people from African-American
communities, Hispanic communities,
from access to the polls. But the court said times
have changed since 1965. So some areas that had
discriminated in the past are no longer discriminating. Therefore, the list– the no
good list of ’65 is outdated. Congress will have
to do it again. Well, think of the
practicality of that position. What member of Congress is
going to stand up and say, my district is
still discriminating so keep us on the bad list? [LAUGHTER] In fact, there was a way out. It was built into
the legislation. It was a bailout. If you had had a clean
record for X number of years, you could bail out
from the coverage. Well, this student recognizing
that the Shelby County decision was going to revive
these efforts to keep African-Americans
from the polls– she was at first very angry. And then she thought to herself,
anger is not a useful emotion. It doesn’t get you any place. I want to do something positive. So she took the
summary of my dissent that I read from the bench
and she put it on this blog. And she quoted The Notorious
RBG after the famous rapper Notorious BIG because she
knew that the two of us had one thing in common. [LAUGHTER] What was it? We were both born and bred
in Brooklyn, New York. Anyway from there it took
out into the stratosphere. [LAUGHTER] But I think it’s mostly
because people wanted something positive, something hopeful. And so that’s how The
Notorious RBG was born. And I must say sometimes it
can be a little overbearing when everyone wants
to take my picture. Though, I’m 86 years old. But if I would go to, say,
Macy’s in Pentagon City, in the old days it was
hard to find a salesperson. [LAUGHTER] Yes, Ms. Ginsburg. Can I help you? KATHERINE BAICKER:
I’m glad at least that problem has been solved. [LAUGHTER] Well, I would like to
turn to some questions from the audience that
have been submitted. And one is, has the
current political climate affected your views on
lifetime appointments? [LAUGHTER] RUTH BADER GINSBURG: Again,
it’s a hypothetical question because Article
III, the Judiciary Article of the Constitution,
says the judges– not just Supreme Court judges,
but all federal judges– hold their office during good
behavior, essentially for life. So I suppose I’m biased
and prejudiced on that– on that subject,
having served 26 years. Much longer than
the average tenure of Supreme Court justices. And I think the US Supreme
Court is the envy of high courts all over the world that have
compulsory retirement ages, some beginning at
60, 65, 70, tops 75. So I think that, again, amending
the Constitution to change it– I don’t think there’d
be such a groundswell. KATHERINE BAICKER:
What about the election of state court judges? Do you think that
that’s functioning well or problematic? RUTH BADER GINSBURG: I think
popular election is a very bad way to select judges. [APPLAUSE] And judges campaigning for
office, saying if you elect me, I’m going to be tough on crime. It’s a spectacle. I don’t know any other
country in the world where judges are elected. One can understand the
origin of people’s distrust of the British judges, but
we’re long past that time. The direction is toward
appointment rather than election. And New York had started
with the Court of Appeals– the top court. And movement is slow, but it is
in the direction of appointing rather than electing judges. I was given information some
years ago about the fantastic amount of money that
must be gathered to get a seat on the
Supreme Court of Texas– millions of dollars. I remember I was
one of the hosts of a delegation from Russia
visiting various states and one was Texas. When they heard
about how much it costs to win a seat on the
highest court of that state, they were just amazed. KATHERINE BAICKER:
Well, speaking of lifetime judicial
ambitions, we have a question from
11-year-old Reagan Jackson who asks, were you always
interested in being a US Supreme Court Justice? Was it a childhood aspiration? [LAUGHTER] RUTH BADER GINSBURG:
In the ancient days when I went to law
school, in 1956 to 1959, there were barely
any women judges. In those years, of all the
federal courts of appeals, only one had a woman. Shirley Hufstedler, who
sat on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. President Carter made her
the first ever secretary of education. So then there were none. But President
Carter looked around and he said, I see
these federal judges and they all look like me. And they are all white,
they are all male. But that is not how the
great United States looks. So I am going to appoint
members of minority groups and women in numbers, not
as one at a time curiosity. President Carter
appointed over 25 women to district court judgeships,
trial court judgeships, and 11 to courts of appeals. And I was one of the lucky 11. Then President
Reagan comes along and he’s not going to be
outdone by President Carter. He’s determined to appoint
the first woman to the Supreme Court. He makes a nationwide search. He came up with a wonderful
choice in Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. No president has ever gone
back to the way it was. So Carter deserves great credit
for changing the complexion of the US judiciary. But there I am in law
school graduating in 1959, far from thinking
about any judgeship. What I want is a
job in the law– any job– [LAUGHTER] –in the law. There was no Title VII, no
anti-discrimination laws. People were upfront about
wanting no lady lawyers. There were a few firms
that were willing to risk taking a chance on a woman. There was no firm
in the entire city of New York who would
take a chance on a mother. And my daughter was
four years old when I graduated from law school. Women were in those
days less than 3% of the lawyers in the country. So it would have been an
unrealistic expectation to think that I would
someday be a judge. Women of my generation
wanted a job in the law. Justice O’Connor is typical. She was very high in her
class at Stanford Law School. No one offered her
a job as a lawyer. She was asked if she could type. Maybe she could be
a legal secretary. So what did she do? She went to a county
attorney and said, I will work for you without
pay for four months. And then if you
think I’m worth it, you can put me on the payroll. Well, of course,
she was far and away the best young
lawyer in the office, so she was put on the payroll. It was getting that first
job that was powerfully hard. Once the woman got it, she
performed at least as well as a man. And so the second job
was not the same hurdle. But getting your foot in the
door, that was the challenge. I never thought about
becoming a judge until Carter took office
and made it his goal to appoint women in numbers. And then I began to think that
might be a nice life for me. [LAUGHTER] KATHERINE BAICKER:
Another question from the audience
related is, do you see similarities in the
fight for gender equity and ongoing battles for social
equity on other dimensions? Are there issues that are
specific for women of color? How does the fight
for racial justice compare to what you’ve
seen over the years? RUTH BADER GINSBURG:
Anti-discrimination enforcement spreads beyond the
particular category. So my best example
of that is a case called Ida Phillips against
Martin Marietta Company. Ida Phillips was a woman
with pre-school children. Martin Marietta had a policy– we hire no women with
pre-school children. The company’s defense– how can
we discriminate against women? Women are 80% of our workforce. But there’s a certain kind of
woman who can’t work there– the mother of
pre-school children. That case was taken to
the US Supreme Court by the NAACP Inc Fund. Ida Phillips was a white
woman, but the NAACP had the foresight to see
how important eliminating that barrier was
for women of color. So in the
anti-discrimination field, I think decisions on
gender-based discrimination can be useful in race
discrimination cases. And certainly, the race
discrimination cases were very important in opening
up opportunities for women. KATHERINE BAICKER:
So perhaps a good question to wrap
up with is, do you have any words of encouragement
for those fighting for democracy and equal
rights around the world who may be disheartened by
setbacks and the personal risks and challenges they face? RUTH BADER GINSBURG:
But they can be heartened by the
number of similar people who think as they do. It’s very hard to do
anything as a loner. But if you get together
with like-minded people, you can be a force for change. And if you look at things
over the long haul, we have come a long way
from how it once was. There was a woman who was in
a prominent Supreme Court case called Loving against Virginia. This was a challenge to
Virginia’s miscegenation law. Mildred Loving said,
in my long life, I have seen great changes. I feel that way too. And although we haven’t
reached nirvana, we have come a
considerable distance from the days when women
couldn’t do that or this simply because they were female. KATHERINE BAICKER:
And a follow-up question from the audience
is, what keeps you optimistic? Is that how you view the future
for our country and around the world? RUTH BADER GINSBURG: What
keeps me optimistic, as I said, is the changes that I have seen. I mean, even think of
race discrimination. World War II we were fighting
a war against the most odious race discrimination. And yet, our own troops
until the very end of the war were rigidly separated by race. I think World War II is what
hastened the decision in Brown v. Board of Education. So I have seen enormous
changes and that’s what makes me optimistic
for the future. KATHERINE BAICKER:
And as you look back on the cases you
have opined on, what is your favorite dissent
you have written? [LAUGHTER] RUTH BADER GINSBURG: It’s
like asking which of my four grandchildren and two
step-grandchildren is– [LAUGHTER] –my favorite. Well, one case that gave
me enormous satisfaction was Lilly Ledbetter’s case. [APPLAUSE] So Lilly Ledbetter worked
at a Goodyear Tire plant. She was an area manager. She was the first
woman to be hired at the Gadsden, Alabama plant,
and to be an area manager. And one day someone puts a
slip of paper in her mailbox with a series of numbers. Lilly recognized
immediately what they were. They were the pay of all
the other area managers. And the young man she had
just trained for the job was earning more than she was. So she said, I’ve had
it, I’m going to sue. And she sued under Title
VII, our anti-discrimination in employment law. She won a sizable jury verdict. Her case comes to
the US Supreme Court and the court decides,
Lilly, you sued too late. This law, Title VII,
says you must complain within 180 days of the
discriminatory incident and you are complaining years
and years after you were first the victim of gender,
race discrimination. So you sued too late. My theory in dissent was that
every paycheck she received renewed the discrimination. So she had 180 days. [APPLAUSE] But what I tried to explain
is that the first woman in a job that has been up
till then held only by men does not want to be
seen as a troublemaker. She doesn’t want
to rock the boat. So even if she suspects
that she’s being paid less, she doesn’t complain. Her employer didn’t
give out pay figures so maybe she didn’t know. But suppose she
had sued early on. The defense no doubt
would have been Lilly just doesn’t do the
job as well as the men. Then year after year she gets
good performance ratings, so that defense is
no longer available. She has a winnable case. But the court said
she sued too late. So the tag line of my dissent
in Lilly Ledbetter’s case was the ball is now
in Congress’s court to correct the error into which
my colleagues have fallen. [LAUGHTER] And there was a coalition– people on both
sides of the aisle– overwhelming vote to pass
the so-called Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which just
adopts the paycheck rule. You have 180 days from
the latest paycheck. It was the first
piece of legislation that President Obama signed
when he became president. [APPLAUSE] KATHERINE BAICKER: Well, it has
been an honor and an education to be able to sit here with you. And I would like
to ask the audience to thank the Justice for
sharing this time with us today. [APPLAUSE]



  2. This was supposed to be live 8 days ago…yet the oldest comment is 6 or 7 days ago? So, NOBODY watched this live and commented?? Am I the only one who finds this peculiar?

  3. More questions need to be asked about the date of this interview, I cant get the link to the supposedly "live" broadcast ?

  4. She has to be escorted out because she is a fall risk smh absolutely pathetic. So selfish of her to not step down

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