Tribute to Hans Smit by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Considered Columbia Law School Professor Smit (1927–2012) a "Treasured Friend and Counselor"

Among people who have encouraged and aided me in my life in the law, Hans Smit merits top billing. My fondness for Hans dates from our first encounter in 1961, when he invited me to lunch at the Harvard Club and asked: “Ruth, how would you like to co-author a book about Civil Procedure in Sweden?” It was an idea that never occurred to me. But Hans described the work in his typically enthusiastic, utterly persuasive way. He also proposed that I assist him and his No. 1 aide, Arthur Miller, in developing other ventures of Columbia’s Project on International Procedure, a multi-faceted endeavor launched and superintended by Hans.

In those days I was rather shy. Hans was the ideal person to help me overcome that trait. With contagious confidence, he encouraged me to speak in public, to write for law journals, even to take over his civil procedure class for a week. He was my rabbi in 1971, when Columbia at last decided a tenured woman belonged on the faculty.

Hans brought me into the comparative law circuit starting in the early 1960s, influencing my perspective on legal issues ever after, and advancing my appreciation of fine food and vintage wine. On the pleasures of fine dining and wine, I hasten to add, my husband, Chef Supreme Marty, was by far the better colleague for Hans. 

In 1978, when Hans and Beverly’s building caught fire, they stayed at our apartment for some months while Marty and I were spending a semester at Stanford. Hans read some of Marty’s reprints left on a dining room shelf, and decided Marty was just the person Columbia needed to enhance its tax faculty. With irresistible encouragement and support from Hans, Marty left 21 years of law practice in New York to begin a law teaching career from which he derived great satisfaction. True, Marty did not stay at Columbia very long. President Jimmy Carter offered me a good job in Washington, D.C., the next year, 1980, and Marty transferred from Columbia’s faculty to Georgetown’s.

That was not the end of Hans’ sponsorship of professors Ginsburg. When daughter Jane decided, in the late 1980s, on a law teaching life, Hans was again the leading promoter. He forecast not only Jane’s promise as a teacher, but the growth potential of the field she had chosen—literary and artistic property law.

Hans, all who have experienced him as teacher, colleague, writer, or bon vivant know, is a man of many talents—fluent in several languages, legendary water polo champion, skilled arbitrator, bargainer, collector of fine art, astute real estate investor, and remarkable buildings and homes renovator. He is truly a man of the world, like Odysseus, a man never at a loss. I count it my great good fortune that for more than 50 years he has been my counselor and treasured friend.



Related Links

Hans Smit '58, Towering Figure in International Arbitration, Dies at 84

Photo Gallery of Hans Smit ’58