A Toast to the Justice

A Toast to the Justice

Thursday, September 11, Justice Ginsburg hosted a talk with students which included a question-and-answer session. It was followed by a dinner in the Cotillion Room at the Pierre Hotel. On Friday, the celebration continued with a set of panel discussions featuring legal experts from around the world, as well as a lunchtime address by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer.

Photo: Dustin Ross

Inner toast made by Maria Simon '94, associate general counsel at the Art Institute of Chicago, who clerked in 1995-96:

Justice Ginsburg, friends of Columbia, it is my great pleasure to join you in celebrating Justice Ginsburg's tenth anniversary on the Supreme Court.

We, of Columbia, are so fortunate to call Justice Ginsburg one of our own. Over the years, she has graced us with her brilliant intellect, her warm and thoughtful friendship. This rich relationship might not have been, but for a rule-bound dean of Harvard who was too inflexible to permit Ruth Ginsburg to receive a Harvard law degree if she completed her third year elsewhere. What a stroke of luck for us at Columbia!

My first glimpse of Justice Ginsburg was in the summer of 1993 during her Senate confirmation hearing. As an intern to Senator Biden, then-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I had a slightly obstructed view over the senators' shoulders to the witness table where the soon-to-be Justice sat. Behind her and to the left, I could see an absolutely beaming Martin D. Ginsburg. Each day, before the hearings began, Marty Ginsburg, this world-renowned tax attorney, would precede the Justice into the room and arrange her notes on the table (What a guy!). He would then sit back and enjoy the Justice's keen and crisp responses to the senators' sometimes convoluted questions. Marty seemed to be saying - to the senators and to the nation - "Behold, I give you a great gift." Of course, he was right.

My vantage point improved dramatically in the October Term of 1995 when I had the great good fortune to be a law clerk to the Justice.

I recall the day of the interview. A snowstorm had brought Washington, D.C. to a stand-still. In my room in the Georgetown Holiday Inn, I contemplated my transportation options. Walking seemed my best bet. The phone rang. Imagine my surprise when Justice Ginsburg was on the line - offering her assistance. The same kindness and consideration has characterized our relationship ever since.

The clerkship was an incomparable experience. Justice Ginsburg, first and forever a teacher, provided her clerks with a tremendous education. The thrill of discussing a legal issue with her was second only to working on a written piece together. The Justice did not rest until - in her spare, elegant prose - she had it just right. Her exacting standards continue to guide - and, I admit, sometimes chide - me in my work.

I am profoundly grateful to the Justice for a precious gift - her efforts to ensure that opportunities, like my clerkship, are available to women. In October Term 1995, roughly one in three Supreme Court clerks was a woman. (For the record, Justice Ginsburg's clerkships that term were evenly divided between women and men.) Although not equal in number, the women clerks had reached a "critical mass." Long gone were the days when women - even those as extraordinary as the Justice - were not considered "clerk" material. In the spring of 1996, Justice Ginsburg wrote the opinion for the Court in United States v. Virginia, opening the unique educational opportunities of VMI to women. The culmination of a lifetime of exposing the inequality of opportunities between the genders, the opinion fairly sung.

To my amazement and delight, the Justice's personal interest did not end with the clerkship. She celebrated special occasions, including the birth of each of my three children, with a note and a gift.

One of those gifts is a fabulous T-shirt, imprinted with the Supreme Court seal and the words "RBG Grand-clerk." In the chaos of our young household, a glimpse of that T-shirt on a little fleeing body makes me smile. I have it on reliable authority that the Justice has 85 grand-clerks! I suppose that if our children are "grand-clerks," then the Justice is a "Grand-Justice." As if there was ever any doubt.

To a Grand Justice: Ruth Bader Ginsburg.