'Justice, Justice Thou Shalt Pursue' Offers Look At Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Early Work
People who saw the funeral of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last year might recall an image: Many of the lawyers who served as her clerks over the years attended the moving of the casket.
One of those clerks standing in front of the Supreme Court building was Amanda Tyler.
"We spread out because of the pandemic. All over the steps and Supreme Court Plaza — on the side that has the portico 'Equal Justice Under Law,' which, so fittingly, she rested under later that day. And when I stepped out and saw the clerks covering the whole front of the Supreme Court, I was overwhelmed with grief and, at the same time, overwhelmed with pride to be a part of this group of lawyers who she had mentored. It was just overwhelming to think about her — having lost her. And it's still overwhelming," Tyler tells NPR.
Tyler clerked with Ginsburg many years ago and worked with her again in the final year of her life. They collaborated on a book that collects some of Ginsburg's writings. It is called Justice, Justice Thou Shalt Pursue. It includes some of Ginsburg's historic opinions, like one that allowed women to attend the all-male Virginia Military Institute. It also includes arguments from earlier years when she appeared as a lawyer before the court.
On getting to watch Ruth Bader Ginsburg think
She taught all of us to think about how can the law be a force for good? And also how the law impacts the lived experiences of real people, and that is something that I think is quite important about her jurisprudence and quite distinctive about it. So, for example, if you read the Ledbetter opinion — in the Lilly Ledbetter case — she's dissenting to a court decision that is making it harder for women to sue for pay discrimination. And she walks the reader through what it's like to be a working-class woman in a factory who discovers she's the victim of pay discrimination and how hard it is to discover that and how you might be reluctant to speak out at first. The questions that come before the court, they're not these abstract, legal, theoretical things. They actually really impact the lives of a broad spectrum of American society. And that needs to be a factor in how the court thinks about reaching its decisions.
On her relationship with Justice Antonin Scalia and how they worked together
It wasn't just a friendship. They took each other's views into account and they considered them very seriously. And she told the story at his memorial service of how when she circulated the VMI majority draft opinion, he gave her a preview of his dissent before he circulated it to others so that she could respond to it effectively. And by her telling, one, she says it was a zinger. And two, she says it helped her make her majority opinion stronger. It helped her refine her arguments. And I think that that is a lesson, a very timely lesson, of engagement with those with whom you disagree. I recall when she testified at her Senate confirmation hearing she quoted Judge Learned Hand, who was a huge influence on her, and she said the spirit of liberty is never quite sure that it's right. It's always a little more humble.
On her writings and words from earlier times
What I see is someone who was a master at her game. In the very first argument, Frontiero, no one interrupts her. And I asked her about this and she said, "Well, I thought I was at sea. I couldn't tell whether they were actually listening to me. But what I realized is that they needed to be educated. They needed to understand how gender discrimination cuts in a lot of different directions and how women are not, in fact, the darlings of the law. They are, in fact, being held back by the law."
Ruth Bader Ginsburg never walked into a room unprepared. She was meticulous. It was how she was so great. I look back at the course of her life. And when you look at the start of her career, the obstacles that she faced, she was relentless. She was resilient. She just kept propelling herself forward. And one of the ways that she did so so successfully was by always being the best prepared person in the room. And she was that way right up until the end.
On her view of the future during the last months of her life
I think back to the last conversation that she and I had. And she asked me about my children — and she asked in particular whether they would be going back to school in person. Because she was so concerned — not just about my kids, but all kids in this country and in the world who were being so profoundly affected by the pandemic. And I think that that is really emblematic of how she was as a person. She was always thinking about others and she was always thinking about the future. And when she looked ahead, what I take and what I hope others will take from her example, is that she was always optimistic. She always believed that we could be better, that we could, through hard work, build that more perfect union as the Constitution calls on us to do and that we would get there.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.