Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman named to the Supreme Court and a justice since 1993, visited Raleigh for Meredith College’s 2019 Lillian Parker Wallace Lecture Sept. 23.
The now 86-year-old spoke about her life, her experiences, and outlook on important issues for the Supreme Court and throughout the country to a crowd of Meredith College faculty, staff, students, and other guests at the Meymandi Hall in downtown Raleigh’s Duke Energy Center. Others watched via a public livestream; a video recording can be found on Meredith’s YouTube channel.
Ginsburg’s career began with the Reed vs.Reed case of 1971 that dealt with conflict between spouses on who would be designated as administrator of the estate of their deceased son. Different treatment based on sex was the key issue in the case.
“It was the perfect case to get the Supreme Court to recognize that the law is differentiating between men and women, did not operate in women’s favor,” said Justice Ginsburg. “Realizing it was the first time ever in history that the court found a gender race classification unconstitutional, we thought we were on a roll.”
Meredith College, an all female four-year institution, hosted Ginsburg, who is not only the second woman to be appointed to the Justice of the Supreme court, but who is also a feminist and takes deep pride in finding equality for women everywhere in every situation.
“It was getting the court to understand that these differentials were no favors to women, and opening their eyes to that reality was a challenge, ” said Ginsburg. “I was facing a bench of men who thought they were very good husbands and very good fathers, and all the differentials in law between men and women, they thought favored women.”
In addition to Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan hold positions as justices and help to represent women for the Supreme Court. Together the three of them speak for women’s rights and equality through the justice system.
“It is tremendously important to the public perception of the court. Now that we’re three all over the bench, we look like we are there to stay, no longer one at a time curiosities,” said Ginsburg. “Anyone who has watched proceedings will have observed that my sisters-in-law…take a very active part in the cliquey that goes on at our argument.”
Early on in the evening, she talked about two suggestions her mother gave her that she also wanted to tell the audience, which was to be independent and be a lady.
“It would be fine if you met and married prince charming, but whether you do or not, always be ready to fend for yourself,” said Ginsburg. “Be a lady, which meant don’t lose time on emotions that will not get you any place, so don’t waste time on anger, resentment, or jealousy. A lady doesn’t let those emotions interfere with her life.”
Ginsburg not only used the night to inspire all the women in the room, but she also told stories of her college days, and even cracked a few jokes.
“What is the difference between a bookkeeper in New York’s Garment District, which my mother was, and a Supreme Court justice? And my answer is, one generation,” Ginsburg said as the audience applauded.
In addition to the Q&A that took place at the end of the lecture, Ginsburg also gave advice of her own, which was to give back to communities while focusing on their careers.
“Whatever field you choose to pursue, in addition, do something that is outside yourself,” said Ginsburg. “Something that will make things better in your community, the people less fortunate than you, things that will bring people together instead of dividing them.”