United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg 1933 - 2020

Please feel free to share your memories or condolences with the FJA.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is high on the all-too-short list of people who have earned admiration bordering adoration from all corners of the human family. Many in the line of her admirers and acolytes, like me, are in the extended judicial family. And many of us have had a host of reasons and circumstances when we have been surprised by the Justice eluding and exceeding our expectations. In my case, it happened when I had the occasion to meet Justice Ginsburg in her Chambers in the Supreme Court on the day after the 2016 national election.

It certainly wasn’t planned that way.

As every judge knows, one of our great joys is to see our law clerks take metaphorical flight after they leave our nest. To my great pleasure and pride, one of my clerks was selected by Justice Ginsburg to join her 2016-17 complement of clerks, and my former clerk had invited me to observe an oral argument in the Supreme Court on Wednesday, November 9, 2016. The only case on the docket that morning was quite interesting enough, but the outcome of the presidential election added to the drama of the morning. Listening to the advocates and the Justices that morning, however, one would never have known that there had been a momentous election the night before with an outcome that surprised many. To be sure, neither the marble pillars nor the metaphysical ones of the august building had cracked and the velvet curtains behind the imposing bench remained as the customary serene frame for the Justices as they engaged the advocates. Justice Ginsburg was among the most vocal.

When I accompanied my former clerk into Justice Ginsburg’s Chambers after the argument, he introduced me to his co-clerks. These several young women quite clearly were overwrought as they watched a T.V. in the outer office of Chambers awaiting Hillary Clinton’s concession speech. As they became more and more visibly and vocally distraught, Justice Ginsburg emerged from her personal inner office to greet me upon “our” shared law clerk’s introduction. As she graciously beckoned me into her personal office, she turned calmly to her tearful women clerks and, in a not unkindly but definitely dispassionate voice, advised them to dry their eyes and “get on with it”, essentially the up-shot being “that’s life, that’s our system and you have to be able to deal with it.” Then, without missing a beat, she began to regale me with some favorite anecdotes about judges from my district, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, most particularly one of my favorite colleagues and mentors, Judge Norma Shapiro who had passed away about a year before.

I silently marveled at how quickly Justice Ginsburg transitioned from the lively and complicated oral argument in which she had been fully engaged, to then address her clerks’ (and, perhaps, the election) upset, to then make the rapid connection to the district in which I sit and the memory of Judge Shapiro. But the Justice had another surprise for me. She moved with alacrity to the floor-to-ceiling bookcase laden with photos and mementos behind her desk, reached high up to a shelf that certainly seemed out of reach for her diminutive stature and pulled down a framed snapshot from among what seemed to be scores of such photos to pick one of about eight or nine women judges from a number of years earlier.  Showing me the photo, Justice Ginsburg confidently pointed to the woman standing next to her in the picture and said, “Here’s one from the first time Norma and I were together to talk about some important issues for women judges.” She continued, “I [the Justice] imagine you [meaning me] also miss Norma very much. Norma was a wonderful friend and terrific judge.” “It takes one to know one,” I thought to myself as I wondered how in the world this busy Supreme Court Justice could make such a perfect and immediate connection.

With this memorable-for-me moment that was, for her, merely about 15 minutes in a typical busy day, Justice Ginsburg wowed me with her graciousness, quick mind, encyclopedic recall, and appreciation of the vicissitudes of life. “Impressive” is just too limited an accolade.

Gene E.K. Pratter
United States District Court Judge For the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

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Please view this video tribute shared by Karen E. Schreier, FJA Secretary
United States District Court Judge For the District of South Dakota

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We join in unison to mourn the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who served as Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1993 until her passing on September 18, 2020.
Justice Ginsburg honored not only the rule of law, but the people it serves.  A true champion of justice, she taught us to persevere and persist in providing fair, equal and impartial justice.  A role model to all, regardless of gender, her strength and gentility won our hearts.  Her intellect and agile crafting of legal argument won our minds.  She inspired us all, to achieve, to overcome obstacles, personal and professional, and to never relent in the pursuit of justice.  
 
Justice Ginsburg most recently headlined our Agenda at the 2018 Federal Judges Association Quadrennial, as she had done many times previously, generously sharing with us insights from her official biography,  My Own Words, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Her diminutive stature belied her omnipresent wit and clarity and enormous intellect.    She exhibited delight in the surroundings of so many adoring Article III judges.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was, and will always be our star, our rock, our role model and our friend.  Thank you for your service, Justice Ginsburg and may you rest in well earned peace.  
 
Judge Cynthia M. Rufe, FJA President 
 
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The Federal Judges Association is deeply saddened, and mourns the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at eighty-seven years old. Justice Ginsburg was, in more ways than one, a landmark figure on the High Court and in life.

Having come from a modest upbringing in Brooklyn, New York, Justice Ginsburg’s mother and father, first and second generation immigrants from Poland and Ukraine, prioritized education in the household. No doubt, this had a deep influence on Justice Ginsburg, who went on to graduate from Cornell University as the highest-ranking woman in her class. Foreshadowing her propensity to shatter glass ceilings, she subsequently enrolled at Harvard Law School as one of just nine women in a class of approximately 500 men. When her husband accepted a job in New York City, Justice Ginsburg transferred to Columbia Law School where she ultimately graduated, tied for first place in her graduating class—all the while caring for her young daughter, Jane.

Despite her unquestionable academic credentials, Justice Ginsburg initially had difficulty finding a position in the legal profession due, in large part, to her status as one of exceedingly few female attorneys at the time. Nevertheless, she gained experience as a law professor, co-founder of the Women’s Rights Law Reporter, and general counsel of the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU, during which time she argued, and authored winning briefs, before the United States Supreme Court. 

That experience made her an ideal candidate for her later appointment to the District of Columbia Circuit and, ultimately, as a justice of the United States Supreme Court, where she was the second female, and first Jewish female, Justice of that Court. A legal giant in her time, Justice Ginsburg authored dozens of persuasive dissents and impactful majority opinions, including United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515 (1996), which struck down the Virginia Military’s Institute’s male-only admissions policy as violative of the Fourteenth Amendment—an opinion which she has cited as one of her favorites.

But Justice Ginsburg suffered profound hardships as well. She survived numerous bouts of cancer and other heath issues, as well as the death of her husband of fifty-six years. During these times, however, the Justice missed oral argument only once, having remained resolute in her mission to “remain a member of the court as long as [she] could do the job full steam.” Her perseverance in the face of challenges both professional and personal is a testament to the human spirit and an example for us all, as jurists, to emulate.

As a member of our federal judicial family she will be deeply missed, proudly remembered and never forgotten for her commitment to justice, the rule of law and the Third Branch. As such, we invite all of our FJA colleagues to submit their own In Memoriam thoughts, remembrances and interactions with Justice Ginsburg for others to reflect upon and enjoy.

Judge Mal Mannion, Chair, FJA Communications Committee