Wednesday, 28 Oct 2020

Opinion | My Memories of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

To the Editor:

Clerking for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2009 and 2010 was a thrilling experience and the honor of a lifetime. It was also challenging. We worked long hours, faced difficult decisions, and struggled to channel the justice’s commanding voice and meet her exacting standards.

But it was also challenging for other reasons. The justice’s husband, Marty, was diagnosed with cancer around the time we started our clerkship. His health declined throughout the term.

In the fall, as was their custom, the justice and Marty invited the clerks and our partners over to their apartment at the Watergate. Marty seemed to be doing OK. He was his famously charming self. He cooked one of his famously amazing meals. Over dinner, they told us about a case they had litigated together early in their careers, representing an unmarried man who had been denied a tax deduction afforded to women in similar situations. Marty was working on a speech about the case for a presentation at the Tenth Circuit.

As they recounted the story, they sounded like high school sweethearts, doting on each other, taking the narrative one from the other. The story of that case was made into a fantastic 2018 film, “On the Basis of Sex.”

He never got to give the speech. He died on June 27, 2010. The justice later delivered it in his stead.

When Marty was no longer well enough to cook, we clerks delivered them pizza. We helped her figure out how to turn on the oven to heat it up.

The day after Marty died, the justice came to the court. And every day after that. She meticulously wrote and edited her decisions. She was dedicated to making sure that even those on the losing side — especially those on the losing side — understood the reasoning behind the decision.

She never accepted things the way they were, and she never stopped fighting to make the world fairer for all of us. Even when things were at their very hardest in her own life, and even when she was in the minority. She didn’t just put one foot in front of the other. She cleared the brush so we could follow.

Pamela Bookman
New York
The writer is a professor at Fordham Law School.

To the Editor:

My mother, a Holocaust survivor, arrived in Brooklyn at age 16 and attended James Madison High School with Ruth Bader. They became friends and remained so until my mother died.

When my daughter was 16, her class was planning a visit to Washington, D.C. I decided to write a letter to Justice Ginsburg, asking whether there was any way the class could visit her at the Supreme Court. I was thunderstruck to receive a letter back saying she’d be delighted. She invited me to come, too.

We had a private meeting with her for 90 minutes, during which we hung on to her every word. Toward the end, she invited the students to ask questions. When there was time for one last question, I whispered rather fiercely to my daughter, saying she would never have another chance. So my daughter raised her hand and said, “Do you have a favorite case?” Justice Ginsburg gave her a twinkly smile and said, “That’s like asking me if I have a favorite grandchild.”

There are no words to describe the sadness and loss to this entire nation, and beyond. May she rest in dissent.

Deborah Hautzig
New York

To the Editor:

Reflections upon the life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg focus on her role as a justice and a leader for equal rights of women. For me, R.B.G. was an amazing teacher.

When I was a student at Rutgers Law School, I was able to get into Professor Ginsburg’s intellectually challenging Comparative Law course. She was a tough-minded, demanding teacher who was always fully prepared. The door to her office was always open to students to discuss Comparative Law or what we might do after we graduated. Her influence on me was significant. My first job after graduation was teaching law at Boston College.

Over the years, we corresponded infrequently, but she sent me a wonderful photo and a warm letter several years ago.

For me, she will be remembered as my teacher and, in a very real sense, she used all of her positions to teach Americans about this country.

Howard A. Cohen

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