I *heart* Ruth

>> Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave an interview recently to the NY Times. My favorite quotes by her:

Q: It seemed to me that male judges do much more abrasive things all the time, and it goes unremarked.

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Yes, the notion that Sonia is an aggressive questioner — what else is new? Has anybody watched Scalia or Breyer up on the bench?
*****
Q: What do you think about Judge Sotomayor’s frank remarks that she is a product of affirmative action?
JUSTICE GINSBURG: So am I. I was the first tenured woman at Columbia. That was 1972, every law school was looking for its woman. Why? Because Stan Pottinger, who was then head of the office for civil rights of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, was enforcing the Nixon government contract program. Every university had a contract, and Stan Pottinger would go around and ask, How are you doing on your affirmative-action plan? William McGill, who was then the president of Columbia, was asked by a reporter: How is Columbia doing with its affirmative action? He said, It’s no mistake that the two most recent appointments to the law school are a woman and an African-American man.

Q: And was that you?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: I was the woman. I never would have gotten that invitation from Columbia without the push from the Nixon administration. I understand that there is a thought that people will point to the affirmative-action baby and say she couldn’t have made it if she were judged solely on the merits. But when I got to Columbia I was well regarded by my colleagues even though they certainly disagreed with many of the positions that I was taking. They backed me up: If that’s what I thought, I should be able to speak my mind.

Q: Is that another example of how you’ve worked with men over the years?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: I always thought that there was nothing an antifeminist would want more than to have women only in women’s organizations, in their own little corner empathizing with each other and not touching a man’s world. If you’re going to change things, you have to be with the people who hold the levers.
*****
JUSTICE GINSBURG: Not often. It was a routine thing [in the past] that I would say something and it would just pass, and then somebody else would say almost the same thing and people noticed. I think the idea in the 1950s and ’60s was that if it was a woman’s voice, you could tune out, because she wasn’t going to say anything significant. There’s much less of that.But it still exists, and it’s not a special experience that I’ve had. I’ve talked to other women in high places, and they've had the same experience.

Q: I wonder if that would change if there were more women who were part of the mix on the court?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: I think it undoubtedly would. You can imagine in Canada, where McLachlin is the chief, I think they must have a different way of hearing a woman’s voice if she is the leader.
*****
Q: When you say that reproductive rights need to be straightened out, what do you mean?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: The basic thing is that the government has no business making that choice for a woman.
*****
Q: Since we are talking about abortion, I want to ask you about Gonzales v. Carhart, the case in which the court upheld a law banning so-called partial-birth abortion. Justice Kennedy in his opinion for the majority characterized women as regretting the choice to have an abortion, and then talked about how they need to be shielded from knowing the specifics of what they’d done. You wrote, “This way of thinking reflects ancient notions about women’s place in the family and under the Constitution.” I wondered if this was an example of the court not quite making the turn to seeing women as fully autonomous.

JUSTICE GINSBURG: The poor little woman, to regret the choice that she made. Unfortunately there is something of that in Roe. It’s not about the women alone. It’s the women in consultation with her doctor. So the view you get is the tall doctor and the little woman who needs him.

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