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Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
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Ruth Bader Ginsburg Interview (page: 2 / 5)

Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

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  Ruth Bader Ginsburg

With the confirmation of Justice Elena Kagan, an unprecedented three Supreme Court justices are now women. How might that affect the future?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: It's obvious now that women are really here and we're here to stay, just as men are. We are not "one or two at a time" curiosities. So I think this is an exhilarating change. When I was a new justice on this court, for the twelve years that I sat together with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, invariably one lawyer or another would call me Justice O'Connor. They had become accustomed to a woman on the Court, and Justice O'Connor was THE woman, so if they heard a woman's voice, well, that must be the lady justice, even though we don't look alike, we don't sound alike. But last year no one called Justice Sotomayor "Justice Ginsburg" or me "Justice Sotomayor," and I am certain that lawyers will perceive the difference among the three of us, and we will each have our individual identities. We're not quite where the Supreme Court of Canada is. The Supreme Court of Canada also has nine justices; four are women, including their chief justice. I think we will not be too far behind.

How did you first become interested in the law?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I became interested in the law somewhere between the second and third year at Cornell University. It came about because my years at Cornell, 1950 to 1954, were not very good years for our country. There was a red scare. There were people in the House and Senate who saw a communist in every closet, and it was particularly hard for people in the entertainment industry. There was a blacklist of people who would not be hired, simply because in their youth they belonged to a socialist club. I had a professor, his name was Robert Cushman, and he taught constitutional law to undergraduates. I was his research assistant, and he wanted me to be aware that our country was estranged from its most basic values. And that there were brave lawyers who were standing up and defending people before the Senate Internal Security Committee and the House Un-American Activities Committee, and reminding legislators that this nation is great because we respect every person's right to think, speak and publish freely, without Big Brother government telling them what is the right way to think. So it was the notion that lawyers could earn a living at that business, but could also help make things a little better for their community, both local -- state, national -- and world. So it was that combination of a trade plus the ability to use your learning, your talent, to help make things a little better for others.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Were there lawyers in your family?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: There were no lawyers in my family. My father came to the United States from Russia when he was 13, and apart from night school to learn English, he had no formal schooling. My mother was the sixth child to be born in her large family, and the first one born in the U.S.A. She was born four months after her parents arrived.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

From where?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: From Austria. And she was a very good student; she graduated high school at age 15 and then went immediately to work so that she could help support the eldest son, who was going to Cornell University. In those families, the eldest son was the one on whom the most attention was lavished, and no one thought about sending girls to higher education.

Did she work while you were growing up?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: No, because...

I think my mother would have thrived had she worked. But when she was married, it was considered a disgrace to a man that his wife worked. It would mean that he was unable to support her. So she stopped working when she married, but she was always helpful to my father in his work. In fact, when she died -- she died when I was 17, just before I was to graduate from high school -- when she died his business went downhill, because she was a very important part of keeping it afloat.

What was his business?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: He was a manufacturer of furs.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Interview, Page: 1   2   3   4   5   

This page last revised on Nov 11, 2013 20:12 EST
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