In Memoriam: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Reflections on Her Life & Legacy

Steve Petteway, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States / Public domain

We mourn the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice and an early member of the Women’s Forum of New York. Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement that “Our nation has lost a jurist of historic stature.” The world also lost a great intellect, a staunch supporter of women’s rights, a role model for working parents.

When Elly Guggenheimer founded the Women’s Forum of New York more than four decades ago, one of the first women she invited to join as a member was Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then a prominent professor of law at Columbia University.  Justice Ginsburg remained a member of WFNY until she relocated to Washington, D.C. in 1980s, when President Jimmy Carter nominated her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  President Bill Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court in 1993.

Justice Ginsburg was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the International Women’s Forum in 2005, and she addressed the Women’s Forum of New York in September 1995 and December 2014. We are proud to note that her obituary for The New York Times was authored by our IWF colleague, Linda Greenhouse.

As an attorney, Justice Ginsburg challenged paternalistic laws, and convinced panel after panel to dismantle sex-based rules and policies. As a Supreme Court Justice, she continued to press for equality and fairness. She notably wrote the majority opinion in a ruling that struck down Virginia Military Institute’s male-only admissions policy, stating: “Women seeing and fit for a WMI quality education cannot be offered anything less, under the State’s obligation to offer them genuinely equal protection.”

In her career, she made a virtue of being a working parent.  Instead of viewing parenthood as a burden, she said caring for an infant while attending law school gave her perspective: “Each part of my life provided respite from the other and gave me a sense of proportion that classmates trained only on law studies lacked,” she wrote in The New York Times.

Forum Member, Hon. Loretta A. Preska, Chief U.S. District Judge, Southern District of New York, kindly shared the following personal memories of Justice Ginsburg:

“When Justice Ginsburg became the second woman to receive the Fordham Stein Prize in 2001, I was her Fordham companion for the evening, and she could not have been more grateful for receiving a prize awarded to a member of the legal profession whose work embodies the highest standards of the legal profession or more complimentary of Fordham.  Another year, when I was assigned to interview her at the Second Circuit Judicial Conference, she was kind enough to pose with my then-young children and to autograph the photo.  Her delightful husband, Marty, was a charming and hilarious dinner companion.

In later years, when I was Chief Judge, Justice Ginsburg greeted all the female Chief District Judges from around the country at the Supreme Court and called me out before the assembled multitude with exceedingly kind remarks about my work as Chief.  She was always not only a booster of women but especially of New York women.

Justice Ginsburg with Forum members at the Yale Club in 2014.

When I asked Justice Ginsburg if she would agree to be interviewed at our Forum lunch, she rearranged her schedule to attend.  It was December and absolutely freezing out.  Tiny as she was, she was not deterred by a little weather.  She swept into the lobby of the Yale Club in her full-length mink, swathed in a neck scarf, surrounded by United States Marshals, and as cheery as could be.  She stayed with us until the last minute, took the photo (shown here), and was whisked directly to the airport, I suspect without having eaten any lunch.  But we Forum members had the pleasure of her company and the benefit of her wisdom that day.  She was truly a trailblazer for all of us”.

The members of the Women’s Forum of New York are grateful to Justice Ginsburg for her active role in the organization, and for her decades of advocacy on behalf of women everywhere.