At 5’ 1” and just over one hundred pounds, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a heavyweight in all but the physical sense of the word. She survived two bouts of cancer without missing a day on the bench. She broke two ribs at age eighty by falling in her home only to return to the SCOTUS gym to lift weights. She looks like your librarian and sounds like your grandmother, but she regularly goes toe to toe with Justice Anton Scalia on the nation’s most pressing issues – and she still manages to call him one of her closest friends. There are those that demand your respect and others who command it, and on September 6th at the National Constitution Center in historic Philadelphia, Justice Ginsburg clearly commanded.
For approximately three hours, the National Constitution Center President Jeffery Rosen spoke with Justice Ginsburg in a winding, calm discussion rather than an interview. Mr. Rosen spoke briefly, posing soft questions and allowing the Justice to expand on the questions as she wished. Upon reflection, I do not blame him. I imagine pushing Justice Ginsberg on an issue is the equivalent of requesting a graceful but ruthless verbal and logical annihilation. Mr. Rosen began the night by disclosing their personal friendship, for he and Justice Ginsberg have a shared love for opera, and he then highlighted her leadership among the liberal justices. In her soft spoken replies, Justice Ginsburg described her rationale with a vivid precision that is to be expected of a Supreme Court Justice, but is nevertheless still stirring to hear. She was simultaneously powerful and unassuming. She deliberately clarified the constitutional questions in play for any court case she discussed, often delving into the historical context of each, but always returning to the impact of the case today.
Her presence drew together a socially diverse crowd. The VIP rows directly in front of the stage boasted corporate giants, political reporters, and big names in Pennsylvania politics (former Governor Ed Rendell gave my friend and Philly-native a pat on the shoulder). Behind the VIPs sat the National Constitution Center Members, who set the tone of a mature and understanding crowd. Finally, the general public seating seemed the most ecstatic. These rows filled up first and stretched back the furthest. The strangers around me introduced themselves, described their particular passion for Justice Ginsburg’s work, and avidly discussed how they wished to carry on her legacy. Several public audience members sported shirts purchased from a Tumblr blog that read “Notorious R. B. G.” a joking reference to rap legend Notorious B. I. G. The owner of that blog happened to be sitting in the second row, amidst a wonderful collection of civic-minded citizens.
Justice Ginsburg’s description of her experience officiating the marriage of Michael M. Kaiser to John Roberts was a highlight of the evening. They were the first same sex couple to be wed by a Supreme Court Justice, and Justice Ginsburg again showed herself to be a trailblazer for equality. Her warm narration described the beauty of the ceremony and expressed reverence for a Constitution strong enough to evolve with changing times. Justice Ginsburg was born in 1933, when homosexual relations were taboo as well as illegal, yet she just made a national gesture supporting gay rights. She is a leader strong enough to evolve with the times and is a woman worth revering.
By Kinjal Dave ’17