U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told an audience of law students in San Francisco Thursday that her goal as a civil rights lawyer four decades ago was to “open all doors for men and women.”
Ginsburg, 78, spoke to students and professors at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law in an evening interview conducted by Professor Joan Williams as part of the school’s Legally Speaking series.
Her comments ranged over her 18 years on the high court, the nomination process and her career as a law professor and women’s rights lawyer before she became a judge.
In a remark on current civil rights, Ginsburg included sexual orientation as a factor that should be a basis for equal treatment.
“We should not be stopped from pursuing whatever talents God has given us simply because we are of a certain race, national origin, religion, gender or gender preference,” she said.
At the start of the 90-minute session, Williams referred briefly to Ginsburg’s emergency evacuation Wednesday from a plane preparing to take off for San Francisco from Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
Ginsburg and 178 other passengers slid down evacuation chutes after the pilot of their United Airlines flight detected a possible engine problem before takeoff. She was unharmed and took a later flight.
“Not everybody is willing to jump out of a plane onto an inflatable slide,” Williams said.
“I had not planned that as part of my journey here,” Ginsburg responded.
Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and became the second woman on the panel. She had previously served on a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., to which she was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980.
Before that, she taught at Rutgers University School of Law and, beginning in 1972, at Columbia Law School. While a professor, she also cofounded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union in 1971 and won several leading cases in that field.
Ginsburg told the Hasting students she challenged stereotype-based discrimination against men as well as women, such as a former law that gave tax benefits to women but not to men taking care of elderly parents.
Williams noted that Ginsburg has said that if nominated to the high court today, she would never be approved by the U.S. Senate because of her ties to the ACLU.
“What has changed?” Williams asked.
“The process itself,” said Ginsburg, who commented “there was a true bipartisan spirit” in the Senate when she was nominated to the high court and confirmed by a 96-3 vote in 1993.
“Some day we’ll get back to the way it once was, but it will take people working on both sides of the aisle who really care about making government work,” she said.
Asked what she would like to have considered her legacy on the court, Ginsburg answered, “I would just like people to think of me as a judge who did the best she could in the limited time she had to keep our country true to what it is to be a great nation.”
Julia Cheever, Bay City News