Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court would be a disaster for our country and our movement. Add your name if you agree: the Senate must do all they can to delay the nomination process.
By Ruth Bader Ginsburg
- Oct. 1, 2016
“Did you always want to be a judge” or, more exorbitantly, “a Supreme Court justice?” Schoolchildren visiting me at the court, as they do at least weekly, ask that question more than any other. It is a sign of huge progress made. To today’s youth, judgeship as an aspiration for a girl is not at all outlandish. Contrast the ancient days, the fall of 1956, when I entered law school. Women accounted for less than 3 percent of the legal profession in the United States, and only one woman had ever served on a federal appellate court.
Today about half the nation’s law students and more than one-third of our federal judges are women, including three of the justices seated on the United States Supreme Court bench. Women hold more than 30 percent of law school deanships in the United States and serve as general counsel to 24 percent of Fortune 500 companies. In my long life, I have seen great changes.
How fortunate I was to be alive and a lawyer when, for the first time in United States history, it became possible to urge, successfully, before legislatures and courts, the equal-citizenship stature of women and men as a fundamental constitutional principle. Feminists, caring men among them, had sought just that for generations. Until the late 1960s, however, society was not prepared to heed their plea.
What enabled me to take part in the effort to free our daughters and sons to achieve whatever their talents equipped them to accomplish, with no artificial barriers blocking their way? First, a mother who, by her example, made reading a delight and counseled me constantly to “be independent,” able to fend for myself, whatever fortune might have in store for me.
Second, teachers who influenced or encouraged me in my growing-up years. At Cornell University, my professor of European literature, Vladimir Nabokov, changed the way I read and 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.
At Columbia Law School, my professor of constitutional law and federal courts, Gerald Gunther, was determined to place me in a federal court clerkship, despite what was then viewed as a grave impediment: On graduation, I was the mother of a 4-year-old child. After heroic efforts, Professor Gunther succeeded in that mission.
Another often-asked question when I speak in public: “Do you have some good advice you might share with us?” Yes, I do. It comes from my savvy mother-in-law, advice she gave me on my wedding day. “In every good marriage,” she counseled, “it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.” I have followed that advice assiduously, and not only at home through 56 years of a marital partnership nonpareil. I have employed it as well in every workplace, including the Supreme Court. When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.
Advice from my father-in-law has also served me well. He gave it during my gap years, 1954 to ‘56, when my husband, Marty, was fulfilling his obligation to the Army as an artillery officer at Fort Sill, Okla. By the end of 1954, my pregnancy was confirmed. We looked forward to becoming three in July 1955, but I worried about starting law school the next year with an infant to care for. Father’s advice: “Ruth, if you don’t want to start law school, you have a good reason to resist the undertaking. No one will think the less of you if you make that choice. But if you really want to study law, you will stop worrying and find a way to manage child and school.” And so Marty and I did, by engaging a nanny on school days from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.