Justice returns to HLS for Celebration 55
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who attended the law school from 1956 to 1958, was the star attraction of Celebration 55, a four-day September event which drew 600 alumnae, students and guests and marked the 55th anniversary of female graduates of the law school.
In a conversation with Dean Elena Kagan '86 in Pound Hall, the justice discussed topics ranging from the role that foreign law should play in the Court's deliberations to the present ideological split on the Court reflected by the number of 5-4 decisions in major cases.
Before the Q&A, Ginsburg offered a cameo portrait of Belva Ann Lockwood, whom she described as "a resourceful woman who in 1879 made the Supreme Court change its ways." Lockwood, the first woman ever to gain admission to practice before the Supreme Court, paved the way for today's female jurists and leaders, Ginsburg said. But "the presence of only one woman on the current Supreme Court bench indicates the need for women of Lockwood's 'sense and steel,'" she added.
When Kagan asked the justice what she was thinking about as she looked ahead at a new term, Ginsburg replied: "Hoping I can get the fifth vote."
"The first full year that Justice [Sandra Day] O'Connor was absent, every 5-4 decision where I was in dissent, I would have been in the majority [had O'Connor still been there]," said Ginsburg. "But the 5-4 decisions can be revisited and many have been. I spend at least as much time on my dissenting opinions as I do on my opinions for the Court. And I am hopeful that one day those opinions will represent the views of the Court."
When asked why and when she chooses to deliver dissents orally from the bench, the justice replied: "If you think the Court has not just gone wrong, if you think it's gone wrong egregiously so, that's when you read your opinion from the bench. And it may be that you have another forum in mind."
She cited the 2007 case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. There, in a 5-4 decision, the Court, taking a highly restrictive view of Title VII, severely limited the ability of women and others to bring EEOC claims alleging discriminatory pay practices.
"I had a particular audience. It was Congress. And it was saying, in effect, 'Congress, you could not have meant what this Court thinks you meant, so fix it,'" she said.
When Kagan asked about the waning influence of Supreme Court decisions on international courts, Ginsburg replied: "I have often said, if we don't listen, we won't be listened to."