My Own Words
Reading the musings of a Supreme Court Justice throughout her life would typically generate excitement only among legal scholars or law students. But the “Notorious RBG”* is the antithesis of typical.
In My Words is a selection of writings published by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, in various mediums, dating back to 1946 when she was a student at Elementary Public School 238 in Brooklyn, New York. This first published writing deals with great world documents and commemorates the enactment of the Charter of the United Nations. Reading that piece gives readers an insight into the thought processes of what was to come.
Ginsberg is the longest serving and oldest Justice on the United States Supreme Court. Nominated by President Bill Clinton, Ginsberg became the second woman to serve on the Court. When she assumed the robe in 1993, she joined the only other woman ever to serve on the court, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
Ginsburg may be a physically diminutive person, but she packs an indisputable punch with her intellect, sense of humor, and degree of dedication to the law.
Her best friend on the court was the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Their legal philosophies were (usually) at polar opposites from each other, yet they bonded over a love of opera.
Referring to Scalia in remarks made in September 2015, Ginsburg wrote, “Different on questions of major import, but one in our reverence for the institution we serve. Never mind the words of some spice opinions, we genuinely respect and like each other. Collegiality of that sort is what makes it possible for the Court to do the ever-challenging work the Constitution and Congress assign to us, without the animosity that currently mars the operation of the political branches of our government.”
RBG’s words are reflected in a duet, “We Are Different, We Are One,” written by composer-librettist Derrick Wang for the opera, Scalia/Ginsberg, that premiered in July 2015.
Ginsberg is one of few Supreme Court Justices who spent considerable time litigating cases before becoming a judge. She represented clients, was counsel in several precedent-setting cases involving equal rights, and provided friend-of-the-court briefs in other cases. That gives her a different perspective from those who spend most of their careers on the bench. Plus, her personal experiences as a woman and a Jew give her insight that is often overlooked or ignored by many in the predominantly white, male judiciary.
Ginsburg writes in a clear and concise way. Her words are easily understood—even if readers disagree with her positions. Ginsberg attributes her writing style to what she learned from Vladimir Nabokov at Cornell University, he “changed the way I read the way I write. Words could paint pictures, I learned from him. Choosing the right word, and the right word order, he illustrated, could make an enormous difference in conveying an image or an idea.”
From two other professors Ginsberg writes that she “learned of our nation’s enduring values, how our Congress was straying from them in the Red Scare years of the 1950s, and how lawyers could remind lawmakers that our Constitution shields the right to think, speak and write without fear of reprisal from governmental authorities.”
Reading the writings of Ruth Bader Ginsberg is a pleasure. Unlike many judges, her prose does not bog down with legal jargon and obtuse observations. The reader understands precisely what she means and where she stands on issues.
The book includes this sentence, “Justice Ginsberg has often said that if she could have chosen any profession she would have loved to be a diva, but she lacked the talent.” U.S. jurisprudence is fortunate that the “Notorious RBG” instead directed her formidable talent to the law and became one of the preeminent jurists in history.
*Ginsberg’s co-authors “gave her the nickname after her fellow Brooklynite, the rapper Notorious B.I.G.” T-shirts, coffee mugs, and other paraphernalia are available with that logo: RBG in her customary ruffled collar and judicial robe.