I interviewed to become one of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s law clerks on a humid June afternoon in 2014 in Washington, D.C. At 5 feet, 8 inches tall and nearly eight months pregnant, I felt rather conspicuous and inelegant next to Justice Ginsburg’s trim, impeccably dressed 5-foot frame. But the Supreme Court justice never mentioned my pregnancy during the interview — never questioned whether I could handle a notoriously demanding and all-consuming job with a young child — and offered me a job on the spot.
Even though we did not discuss it then, it was apparent a year later when I began working for her that she remembered that I had a young child. Within my first few days on the job, Ginsburg made it clear that I was welcome to leave the office each evening in time to put my daughter to bed (even though she, a night owl by nature, stayed late nearly every night) and to continue my work from home in the evening — much as she did as a law student with a 1-year-old at home.
And when she did need me to stay late to work on an urgent matter, she would always call me at my desk well before I would leave to let me know, alleviating any worry that I would miss something important by following her suggestion.
Legal work, lived principles
My experience should not have been surprising. Her treatment of a young law clerk was in keeping with the principles that Ginsburg fought for, and the discrimination she faced, in her remarkable career in support of women’s equal rights and equal opportunity. Much of Ginsburg’s legal work before her career on the bench focused on dismantling legal classifications based on stereotyped assumptions about appropriate gender roles and women’s needs and abilities. And as a young, untenured law professor, Ginsburg hid her second pregnancy beneath baggy clothes until after her teaching contract was renewed — an indignity I never needed to even contemplate.
The graciousness and care that Justice Ginsburg showed me also should not have come as a surprise. She approached not just the law but all the people in her life with an unparalleled degree of empathy and compassion. She had a remarkable ability not just to grasp the critical legal questions in a case but also to keep at the front of her mind the actual people who would be affected by the court’s decisions in cases large and small. And her ability to build meaningful and enduring friendships across political and ideological divides, including with Justice Antonin Scalia, was legendary.
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While her kindness to me would have been enough, her mentorship and modeling of how to live as a “whole person,” as she once described it to me — a person with a deep and abiding passion for her work, her family and friends, and, for her, opera — went far beyond these thoughtful courtesies.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg beat the odds
Although I never had the opportunity to know her husband, Marty, the stories of their lifelong adoration and support for each other command admiration. They shared work and family responsibilities — the justice in particular loved to show off the cookbook of Marty’s recipes, sold at the Supreme Court gift shop, to any visitor who came in even years after his death — and Marty was the informal “campaign manager” who rallied behind the scenes for her nomination to the court.
It is a fitting tribute to Ginsburg that her official portrait, which will soon hang in the halls of the Supreme Court, features not just her but also tokens of her husband and her two children.
In the midst of a pandemic that requires so much more of all of us, and especially parents of young children, I have found it both inspiring and heartening to think of Justice Ginsburg, who rose to the top of the legal profession despite long odds, discrimination and, in later years, repeated battles with serious illness — and who did it while lifting up those whom the law failed to protect. I will miss her dearly, but the example she set will not soon be forgotten.
Amy Marshak is a litigator at the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, Georgetown University Law Center, where she is also an adjunct professor of law.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ruth Bader Ginsburg clerk: She lived her anti-discrimination legacy