‘Rejected as a Clerk, Chosen as a Justice’

From Neil A. Lewis’s front-page story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s nomination to the Supreme Court:

In 1960, a dean at the Harvard Law School, Albert Sachs, proposed one of his star students to Justice Felix Frankfurter of the Supreme Court as a law clerk. Justice Frankfurter told Professor Sachs that while the candidate was impressive, he just wasn’t ready to hire a woman and so couldn’t offer a job to Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Judge Ginsburg, who now sits on the Federal appeals court and was chosen today by President Clinton for the Supreme Court, recently told that story to her own law clerks to explain how she became interested in the role of women in the eyes of the law.

From 1973 to 1976 she argued six women’s rights cases before the Court and won five of them, profoundly changing the law as it affects women.

“She is the Thurgood Marshall of gender equality law,” said Janet Benshoof, the president of the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, an abortion-rights advocacy group, repeating a common description of Judge Ginsburg. Like Justice Marshall, who shaped the legal strategy of the civil rights movement for the NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund before he joined the Court, Ruth Ginsburg organized the cases, found the plaintiffs and delivered the oral arguments.

Think about that. When Ginsburg was in law school, gender inequality was so profoundly unjust in the United States that she wasn’t even considered for a clerkship on the Supreme Court, simply because she was a woman. By the time she died, she was not merely a justice on the Court, but one of the most iconic, essential, and influential ones in history. That wasn’t because she was born at the right time and surfed an inevitable wave — she helped create the wave. By force of her intellect, will, and keen sense of justice, she helped bend the arc of the moral universe.

Saturday, 19 September 2020