Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a precise and careful woman. Her deliberate consideration of everything extends not only to her interpretation of the law, but her public speaking. She told me: “It is important to keep your audience in good humor” when she referred to her successful arguing of five landmark equality cases in the 1970s. These were “men of a certain age in the 1970s” she added, describing the then all-male Supreme Court justices. “They did not understand the notion of gender discrimination. Racial discrimination was odious, but women were not in a ghetto, they lived side by side with men.” The persuasion she needed was nuanced. She believed it was “the only approach that would work.” She said, “My idea was to speak slowly so ideas could be grasped.”
Still today, Justice Ginsburg is careful and cautiously deliberate in her communication. She writes her own speeches, with “lots of research assistance” from her able and bright law clerks. She said, “Sometimes a law clerk will draft a speech, and it is helpful for me to see how another good mind would put it together. But I re-write.”
She enjoys public speaking and a quick glance at the Supreme Court Website shows that she is speaking in public these days more than her Supreme Court colleagues. She felt especially good about her most recent talk in San Francisco when she accepted the prestigious ABA medal. Reflecting back on her advocacy work on behalf of the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU in the 1970s she said, “What a luxury I had to be an advocate for people who needed my services and for a cause for society.”
In less than two months there will be three women Supreme Court justices serving together for the first time since the Court began in 1790. Referring to women’s expanding roles in society, she said, “Yes, progress has been dramatic, but lasting change takes time.” Public speaking and otherwise, Justice Ginsburg has good advice: “keep in mind your mission.”
Nichola Gutgold interviewed Justice Ginsburg in her Supreme Court Chambers on August 19, 2010.