Just over a week ago, legendary Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away. The Notorious RBG as she came to be known in recent years was 87 years old and battling cancer yet again, so her passing was not entirely a surprise. Even so, it was another sadness in a year already laden with grief.
Within hours of her passing political leaders announced their intention to replace her immediately, and the conversation shifted away from Ginsburg’s extraordinary life and contributions and instead to the controversy over the nomination of a new justice.
Death and politics — “very on-brand” for 2020.
As I write this, Ginsburg has not yet been laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. I’d like to pause for just a moment to celebrate the moxie of one of the sharpest legal minds to ever grace the bench. Books have been filled with details of Ginsburg’s accomplishments, but these small details strike me the most:
Moxie is deliberate.
Ginsburg had a reputation for speaking slowly and deliberately, taking long pauses between thoughts. Her words were carefully chosen.
“Her speaking style is slow, meticulous, and careful. Her communication is illustrative of her approach to the law: just what is needed. She tells her law clerks: ‘Don’t write sentences that people will have to re-read. The same is true of public speaking.’ She says: ‘My effort was to speak slowly so that ideas could be grasped,’” said author Nicola D. Gutgold.
As an interviewer, I’m thinking a lot about how I might have felt interviewing Ginsburg. Would I have been comfortable sitting with her in silence? Would I have allowed myself and my viewers to pause so that her ideas could be grasped and considered?
In our fast-paced world, it can be a challenge simply to let ideas be, and sit with them for a moment. Ginsburg had the moxie to embrace silence.
Moxie finds a way.
When Ginsburg graduated with her law degree from Columbia in 1959, she found it impossible to find a job with a law firm despite having earned a seat on Columbia’s law review and graduating at the top of her class. Many firms openly declared they would only hire men as attorneys.
So Ginsburg found another way to put her education and her brilliant mind to work. She landed a job with the US District Court of the Southern District of New York, and later with Columbia’s Project on International Procedure, where she studied Sweden’s judicial system.
Being pushed out of private practice pushed Ginsburg into civil service and academia, much to the benefit of us all. Her study of Sweden’s judicial system shaped her interest in women’s equality, and Ginsburg founded The Women’s Rights Law Reporter and wrote the first textbook on gender discrimination in the law in the early 70s while a professor first at Rutgers University, and later Columbia. As a professor, she brought the issue of gender discrimination into prominence and serious study.
I wonder how my grandmother’s life and career might have been different if she’d followed in the footsteps of Ginsburg rather than blazing her own trail as an attorney and legislator.
Moxie has a champion.
For all Ginsburg’s success and accomplishments, she was perhaps her most thankful for what she called an incredible stroke of luck — meeting, falling in love, and marrying Marty Ginsburg.
The two were teenage undergraduate students at Cornell when they went on their first date. Their romance lasted nearly six decades, through law school, children, career moves, AND CANCER!
“I think that the most important thing I have done is to enable Ruth to do what she has done,” Marty Ginsburg reportedly told a friend before his passing in 2010. Ginsburg enabled his wife in ways big and small, from cooking meals to quietly talking her up to colleagues and influencers to camping out by her bedside when she was battling cancer.
Ginsburg enjoyed what many men take for granted: a loving, devoted, supporting spouse. While wives have long been expected to support their husband’s careers, the expectation is rarely placed on husbands. Marty Ginsburg — a successful and influential tax attorney and law professor in his own right — was an extraordinary husband, particularly as a man of his times.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Wikipedia Page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruth_Bader_Ginsburg
The United States Supreme Court’s Wikipedia Page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supreme_Court_of_the_United_States
Marty Ginsburg’s Wikipedia Page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_D._Ginsburg