U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 2019 National Book Festival

>>Carla Hayden: Good morning. [ Cheering and Applause ] I’m Carla Hayden, the
Librarian of Congress, and I hope you all have
been enjoying yourselves this morning. [ Cheering and Applause ] Now, we have a rather
large crowd this morning for this particular session. And that’s why I’m very thrilled
to introduce our next program. For the past year at the Library
of Congress — you may sit down. Because I have a
few more things. For the past year at
the Library of Congress, we have been celebrating
change makers. And I can think of few people
who more than aptly fit that description and the United
States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. [ Cheering and Applause ] Okay, I’m going to hurry up. She is a hero and an
inspiration to so many of us. In fact, at 4am this morning, students from American
University, who are right over there. [ Cheering and Applause ] Camped out in front of this
facility, and they are here. She says — and I said, um,
Justice, I’m going to talk about your graduation
from Columbia Law School, and taught at Rutgers and
Columbia, and spend most of your career advocating
on women’s rights, and all of these things. And you’ve been called recently
the Beyoncé of Juris Prudence. [ Cheering ] And the Jus — I
said, can I say that? She said, I’d rather
you say the J-Lo. [ Cheering and Applause ] So, without further ado, she
is joined by her co-authors of her best-selling
memoire,My Own Words, co-authors Mary Hartnett, adjunct professor
at Georgetown Law. Wendy W. Williams, a Professor
Emeritus at Georgetown Law, and her interviewer today
and the interviewer — the person you know very well
from NPR, Miss Nina Totenberg. So, the Notorious RBG. [ Cheering and Applause ]>>Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg: Please be seated. This way? Okay. Good.>>Carla Hayden: And I have to tell you before I leave the
stage, I want to shake her hand. [ Cheering and Applause ]>>Nina Totenberg: Well,
I want to give her a hug, but that would be
very unprofessional. So, this is quite an
amazing group and I — I’m very admiring of all the
people who have been online for so many hours, and
waiting to see the Justice. There’s a lot to see, even though she’s a
pretty little person. So, how about J-Lo? How did that happen?>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
I was called about a month or so ago by Jennifer
Lopez, and she said, she would like to meet me and introduce her
fiancé Alex Rodriguez. So, they came to chambers
and we had a very nice visit. She mostly wanted to
ask if I had any secret about a happy marriage. But now A-Rod is
traveling with her to concerts all over the world.>>Nina Totenberg: So, what was
your secret to a happy marriage? Did you pass on your
mother-in-law secret?>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: On the day I was married
my mother-in-law — I was married in her home — she took me aside
and said she wanted to tell me what was the
secret of a happy marriage. And I said, I’d be
glad to hear it. What is it? And she responded, it helps
sometimes to be a little deaf. And that good advice
I have followed in every workplace [laughter], including the good
job I now have. So, if an unkind word, a thoughtless word is
said, you just tune out. [ Applause ]>>Nina Totenberg: I would
personally advise that instead of Chairman Mao you
listen to Justice Ruth. Justice Ginsburg, we all
know you’ve had some health challenges in the last
year, the last month. You had radiation
for most of August. So, let me ask you the question
that everyone here wants to ask, which is how are you feeling,
why are you here instead of resting up for the term
[laughter], and are you planning on staying in your current job?>>Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg: How am I feeling? Well, first this audience
can see that I am alive. [ Cheering and Applause ] And I am on my way
to being very well. [ Cheering and Applause ]>>Nina Totenberg: And
why are you here instead of resting up for the term?>>Ruth Bader Ginsburg; The term
we have more than a month left to go, so I’ll be prepared
when the time comes. [ Cheering and Applause ]>>Nina Totenberg: So how
do you just keep trucking’?>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
Well, one thing, I love my — the best and the hardest job
I ever had and it’s what — it has kept me going
through four cancer bouts. Instead of concentrating on
my aches and pains I just know that I have to read
this set of briefs, go over the draft
opinion, and so I have to somehow surmount
whatever my — whatever is going on in
my body and concentrate on — on the courts work.>>Nina Totenberg: So your
bookIn My Own Words, it’s the first essentially
of two by Mary Hartnett and Wendy Williams, and you
in some — in the first one, because it tells a lot of your
own words from the time you were in grammar school and
writing for the school paper, and opinion pieces to your
Supreme Court opinions. And then there’s going to be
a later authorized biography. These two ladies have been
working on it for some time. So, Mary Hartnett, let me turn
to you for a moment and ask you about the upcoming book. I hesitate to ask this,
because I’m going to do it because at least I
have 4,000 witnesses. When –>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: ThatMy Own Words
was to be second. My official biographers
Mary and Wendy have been at work how many years is it?>>Mary Hartnett: Fifteen years.>>Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg: Fifteen years.>>Nina Totenberg: 2004.>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The idea is the book would come
out, the biography would come out and would be
followed by selections from speeches I’d given,
opinions I’d written. But the years well, going on
and on, and then it came to me that Mary and Wendy expected
that I would be on the court for some time into the future. So, they — to make the book
complete they wanted to wait. And I said okay,
let’s flip the order. Let’s have my selected
writings first and then — then the biography.>>Mary Hartnett: And
it was a marvelous idea.>>Nina Totenberg: So, you
still haven’t said when.>>Mary Hartnett: Oh.>>Nina Totenberg: That is my
job to ask questions, you know.>>Mary Hartnett: This
Justice keeps doing thing and we’re very happy about that. [ Cheering and Applause ] And so, it will be —
the idea originally was that it would break the
story of Justice Ginsburg. It was before she was notorious. But now, [laughter] it will
be the complete full story and so we want to wait
until we have that and hopefully it will
not come out very soon. [ Laughter and Applause ]>>Nina Totenberg:
Well done Mary. [ Applause ] So, I talked to you a little
bit about the upcoming book. You won’t tell me
much, but I do know that there’s a whole chapter
about Justice Antonin Scalia. Justice Ginsburg’s great
friend, sparing partner, and entertainer in some ways. So, tell me why there is
a whole chapter about him and about your interview of him?>>Mary Hartnett: Sure, so
there’s also a whole chapter of him — about him
inMy Own Words, including Justice
Ginsburg’s reminiscence about — about Justice Scalia. And everyone I think
in this room knows about the unlikely
friendship between the two. And interviewing Justice Scalia
was a real treat for the book. And we interviewed
him for the biography, but parts of that interview
are inMy Own Words. And as Justice Scalia
and Justice Ginsburg are so different in so many ways, going into his chambers
was very different. Justice Ginsburg’s are light,
airy, modern art, dozens, or hundreds of pictures of
friends, family, colleagues. And going into Justice Scalia’s
chamber it’s dark, leathery. There’s a big dead
animal looking down [laughter] at
you from the wall. And so, as I sat there
interviewing Justice Scalia, I watched how he went from
the kind of tough Juris that we all know, and his face
just softened and lightened up as he talked about
his good friend Ruth. And he — he told
several stories. One was when they traveled to
India together and they went to visit the Taj mahal, and Justice Scalia described
how he watched Justice Ginsburg listen to the tour guide
describe the love story behind the building of the Taj mahal. And he said tears start
to stream from her eyes. And as he told me that I 98%
sure I saw a tear not related to an opinion or a descent come
out of his [laughter] eyes. And the other story
that he liked to talk about was parasailing. Justice Ginsburg at — when
she was a young 70-year-old, was in Nice for a legal
exchange and was standing in the hotel looking
out at the water and saw all these
people parasailing. And she turned to her husband
Marty and said, Marty that looks like fun, we should do that. Marty looked horrified
and said, are you crazy? And if you do that, I’ll remember you to
our grandchildren. The dean who was the host said,
I’ll go parasailing with you. This was Dean Yellin. And his wife was equally
horrified and she said, if there’s an accident
and they can only save one of you, it better not be you. But so, to — so they
went parasailing. They had to adjust for weight because Dean Yellin was a
normal sized human being and there was Justice Ginsburg. And off they went, and they
went up and down, up and down. Plopped into the water. And Wendy and I asked
Justice Ginsburg about this experience
a few years ago when we were interviewing her
and said, what was it like? Did you like it? And Justice Ginsburg said,
it was marvelous, glorious. And then she related it of
course to a Greek myth and said, it was like Icarus, but we
didn’t get too close to the sun.>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
The weight was also a problem in Registan when we took a ride
on a very elegant elephant. And there was a photograph
of it. My feminist friends
asked why are you sitting in the back of the elephant? And I explained it had to do
with the distribution of weight.>>Nina Totenberg:
Justice Ginsburg, you’ve always been a
rather determined person. When you were in law school
you husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Doctors told you his chances of
survival were extremely slim. But the two of you
just carried on. And as we all know, he survived. But I thought people here might
be interested in what your days and nights were like
in that year. And how — how in
some ways it set up your sleep patterns for life.>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: It was my second
year in law school. Marty’s third year. And it was massive surgery
followed by massive radiation. There was not chemotherapy
in — in those days. We just took each
day as it came. My routine was I would
attend my classes. I had note takers in
all of Marty’s classes. I would then go to Mass
General, the hospital where he was, in the afternoon. And then when he was
released from the hospital and was having daily radiation,
he was first very sick and then he would sleep
until about midnight, when whatever food he ingested that day he would have
my not very good cooking. But [laughter] and then
again about 2 o’clock in the morning — oh, he was also dictating
his senior paper to me. He went back to bed about
two in the morning and that’s when I hit the books myself. And in between there
was our then two and a half year old daughter. So, I, for weeks, many weeks
I was sleeping maybe two hours a night. And that’s how I
became a night person. I appreciated that in
those early morning hours, the telephone didn’t ring, there
were no emails in those days. It was a quiet time. I could concentrate
on the books.>>Nina Totenberg: Well,
I hope you’re getting more than two hours these days. I do know that if you want to call the Ginsburg residence
you do not — on a day — like a weekend day, you
do not call before noon.>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
That’s not true on sitting days.>>Nina Totenberg: That’s not
true on court days at all. So today women —
to some extend — take for granted their
equality in the workplace. But that was not the case
when you were a young lawyer. You couldn’t get a
job in a law firm. You had not one, but
two strikes against you. You were? It was three –>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
Well, I was first a Jew and there were many –>>Nina Totenberg:
Three strikes.>>Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg: Law — well known firms in New
York that would not get up to welcoming to Jews. The next, I was a woman. That was a higher barrier. But the absolute killer was I
had a four-year-old daughter when I graduated
from law school.>>Nina Totenberg:
You were a mother.>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
So, if they would take a chance on a woman, a mother was more
than they were willing to risk.>>Nina Totenberg: So, you
had top grades at Harvard and in your last year of
law school when you moved to New York with your husband,
you were tied for first place at Columbia Law School. And you’re applying
for clerkships. And — tell us how you
finally did get a clerkship. Because nobody by and large
would even interview you for the most part.>>Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg: Yes, those were pre-Title VII days. So, employers were up front about saying women are not
welcome at this workplace or we had a lady lawyer
once and she was dreadful. So how many men have you
had that didn’t work out? But I had a wonderful
professor at Columbia Law School who later moved to
Stanford, Gerry Gunther. He was in charge of
getting clerkships for Columbia students, and
he called every federal judge in the Second Circuit. In the southern east —
eastern districts of New York, and he was not meeting
with success. So, he called a Columbia
graduate, Judge Edmond Palmieri, who was a Columbia
undergraduate, Columbia Law School graduate, and always took his
clerks from Columbia. And he said, I strongly
recommend that you engage Ruth
Bader Ginsburg. And Palmieri’s response was,
I’ve had women law clerks. I know they’re okay. But she’s a mother and
sometimes we have to work on weekends, even on a Sunday. So, Professor Gunther
said, give her a chance and if she doesn’t
work out a young man in her class who’s going to a downtown firm will
jump in and take over. So that was the carrot. It was a stick. And the stick was if you
don’t give her a chance, I will never recommend
another Columbia graduate as your law clerk. [ Laughter and Applause ] That’s the way it was in not
so ancient days for women. The big hurdle was to
get that first job. Once a woman got the job, she did it at least
as well as the men. So, the second job was
not the same obstacle. There’s a wonderful book — this is a meeting about
books, so let me mention it. It’s calledFirst. And it’s about — it’s a biography of
Sandra Day O’Connor. She was very high in her
class at Stanford Law School, but no law firm would hire her. She was asked to type and
maybe there would be a place as a legal secretary. So, what did she do? She went to a county attorney
and said, I will work for you without pay for four months. And then if you think
I’m worth it, you can put me on the payroll. That’s how Sandra Day
O’Connor got her first job.>>Nina Totenberg: But even after your clerkship
you couldn’t get a job in a law firm. You ended up being
a law professor.>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
No, I could have gotten a job. In fact, I was going to a
firm when another professor from Columbia, Hans
Smit, said, how would you like to write a book about
the Swedish judicial system? Well –>>Nina Totenberg:
This is a part of her life you will not
hear generally discussed, so you’re in on a question
that normally doesn’t come up. How is your Swedish by the way?>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
[Inaudible], but anyway, this was an irresistible offer,
because here I was in my 20s, before I turned 30, I would
have a book between hard covers. Marty and I married the same
month I graduated from Cornell. So, I never lived on my own. I went from a college
dormitory to being married. And I had what might be
called the eight year itch. I wanted to see if I
could manage on my own. And the deal was, I
would go to Sweden. My daughter Jane would be
taken care of by her father for about six weeks and when
she finished school she came and joined me in Sweden. And I got that out of my system. I never again, yearned
to live on my own. Oh, and then there was
the opportunity to learn about a culture and
to learn a language that I knew nothing
at all about.>>Nina Totenberg: So, you —
Wendy, did you — one of you — did you go to Sweden with her?>>Mary Hartnett: I did.>>Nina Totenberg: You
— Mary you went to — she went back to
Sweden this year.>>Wendy Williams: This year.>>Mary Hartnett: Yes.>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
It was the 50th anniversary of my honorary degree from
the University of Lund.>>Nina Totenberg:
And you saw there — what did you see in the streets? Your picture.>>Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg: Yes.>>Mary Hartnett: There were
posters up and down the streets of one of the many, many, many events that the
Justice did in Sweden. She was very overprogrammed,
three or four events a day. But she wasn’t daunted. But we kept trying
to see the poster as the car was zooming
through the streets. And it was like that
scene in the movie,French Kisswhere they
never see the Eifel Tower. We kept looking and looking
[laughter], and finally driving to the airport, remember? We turned and there it was.>>Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg: Yes.>>Nina Totenberg: Wendy,
you’ve been working on this book for 15 years with Mary. Did you interview all of the
justices she served with? How often did you interview her? What do you do when you
have 15 plus years — what is your agenda?>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
Wendy before you answer, let me tell you how
all this began. So –>>Nina Totenberg: You’re
not going to get to talk.>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
So, Wendy and Mary came to see me and they said,
inevitably people are going to write about your life,
so why don’t you make as your official biographers,
people you really trust. And I certainly trusted —
Wendy and I were in the trenches in the 70s, when for the
first time in history, it became possible
for courts to accept that the equal protection
clause meant that women were people
equally statured to men. [ Cheering and Applause ] So, I knew Wendy’s strategy and
mine were pretty much the same. I knew that she understood what
we were trying to accomplish. So, I said yes without
hesitation.>>Wendy Williams:
In fact, when we — when we came to her
to talk about it, she sat us down at a little
table and on the table, there was a stack of
documents and opinions, and other things
about this high. And she said, oh here’s
a little something that you might want to look at. That’s how we knew we
were in so to speak.>>Nina Totenberg: So, did you in fact interview all the
justices she served with?>>Wendy Williams: I
did not interview any of the justices she
served with, but Mary did.>>Nina Totenberg: Did the
two — between the two of you, you interviewed them all?>>Wendy Williams: We did.>>Mary Hartnett:
Actually, not all of them.>>Wendy Williams: Some
refused to be interviewed.>>Mary Hartnett: Well, and
there are some newer additions that will — that we
still plan to interview. But most of them.>>Nina Totenberg: And how
often did you sit down with her for an extended interview? I’m assuming it’s a lot.>>Wendy Williams:
Well, it’s a lot. We started out in that
little moment in time after she was done with her
summary and just before she had to knuckle down and
prepare for the coming term. And every year in August prob
— most often in the last week, we — we sit down with her
for three days in a row in the late afternoon. So, we have our own
big stack from that. And she — and this year
it was a little different. We went up to New York where
she was getting her radiation treatment and it was
amazing — how could you — anyway, so we sat with her
twice up there and she — she remembered everything. She was perfectly normal,
except she was very tired, which she has never let stop her and she wasn’t letting
it stop her then. And that was — and that was —
that was a new experience for us in New York, but then we
came back down for one day — day before yesterday —
and did you third day. So, every year we do that. And then we do a lot
of things in between and to keep track of her.>>Nina Totenberg: So, let me
just say this to you two here in front of God and everybody. Justice Brennan famously
had an authorized biographer who got writers block
after he died. And somebody else eventually
had to take over the project.>>Wendy Williams: Yes,
and I’m getting old. Is that what you’re saying? [ Laughter ]>>Nina Totenberg:
I’m saying to you, you better note get
writers block. We all want — we
all want to see that. Everybody here, some of whom are
a great deal younger than me, want to be able to read
the product of your labors.>>Wendy Williams:
Well, we do too, so. [ Applause ]>>Nina Totenberg: You know,
I’m taking for granted, this is a very educated
and curious audience. I’m taking for granted
that everybody in this room has seen
at least once. [ Applause ] AndOn the Basis of Sex. So, I’m not going to go
through all of the cases and the strategy and all of
that of Justice Ginsburg. Because there are other
places where you’ve seen this. But there are also a young
people in this audience. Men and women. And I wanted to ask Justice
Ginsburg, in light of that and in light of all
of the conversation that we have these days
about balance between work and family life, do tell us the
story of the elevator thief. [ Laughter ]>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The elevator thief
was my lively son. It was when he was
in the 6th grade. I called him lively. His teachers called
him hyperactive. And I would get calls about
once every month to come down to the school to talk
about my son’s latest escapade. But one day I was sitting in my
office at Columbia Law School, the phone range, it
was the headmaster. We need to see you immediately. Now I’d been particularly weary
that day because I had stayed up all night writing a brief. So, I said, this
child has two parents. Please alternate calls,
and it’s his father’s turn. [ Cheering and Applause ] So, they called Marty
who was then the head of the tax department
at a large law firm. he came down and was told
your son stole the elevator. And Marty’s immediate response
was, he stole the elevator? How far could he take it? So, I don’t if it was
Marty’s sense of humor — by the way, the theft was — it was one of those
old-fashioned handheld elevators. The operator went
out for a smoke, one of James’ classmates
challenges him to take the kindergarten
class up to the top floor.>>Wendy Williams: Which he did.>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
So, after that episode, the calls came barely
once a semester. There was no quick change
in my son’s behavior. But the school was much more
reluctant to take a father away from his work than a mother. So, the suggestion to
alternate calls did the trick. [ Applause ]>>Nina Totenberg:
So, I want to –>>Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg: Let me just add that, that son is today
a fine human and.>>Nina Totenberg: He’s
not in prison anywhere.>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
And he’s a great parent to two — to two girls.>>Nina Totenberg: And because
she won’t do it, I will. He has — he runs a thing called
Cedille Records, C-E-D-I-L-L-E. And they product magnificent
classical recordings. Okay, that’s my — that
would be inappropriate for you to do but not me. So, let’s talk about your
time on the Supreme Court. You’re appointed by
President Clinton. And within three years of
getting to the Supreme Court, you’re still a very
junior justice. You’re assigned to write the
Virginia Military Institute case striking down their policy
of exclusion of women. And you — you would not have
gotten that — that assignment, but for your female
colleague, Justice O’Connor. Right?>>Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg: Yes. The seniority is very
big in our workplace. So, Justice O’Connor would
have been way ahead of me as the chosen opinion writer. But Sandra said, Ruth
should write this opinion. So, it was thanks to
Justice O’Connor that I got to write the decision in the Virginia Military
Institute case.>>Nina Totenberg: So, you
wrote in that case that most — most women — indeed most
men would probably not want to meet the demands, the
rigorous demands of the MI, but those extraordinary
individuals who can meet those
demands and want to meet those demands
should be permitted to. So, you were invited
to VMI a little over a year ago I
think, to give a speech. How did that go?>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
In fact, they had invited me to come to VMI at the 20th
anniversary of the decision. My calendar was too
crowded, so it turned out to be the 21st anniversary. And you were with me.>>Mary Hartnett: Yes.>>Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg: For that. The change in that
school has been enormous. the commanding officer was
so proud of his women cadets. They live in the same spartan
quarters that the men live in. But they were so enthusiastic. Many of them were in
the engineering program. One wanted to be an
atomic scientist. For the school, by
admitting women they were able to upgrade their
applicant pool considerably. [ Applause ]>>Nina Totenberg: Wendy,
what did she leave out?>>Wendy Williams: Well, she left out a Ginsburg/Scalia
moment. To begin with. Because Justice Scalia found
her opinion fairly outrageous. And he was very upset
about the whole thing. And his last sentence of his
opinion said something like, this — this — this is
going to destroy VMI. He used the word destroy. And I asked Justice Ginsburg
about that later and she said to me with perfect
— this was — this was not so long after
the opinion, I think. She said to me with
the utmost confidence, VMI will be a better
place if there are women. And it won’t be destroyed. And the wonderful thing about
that was, when we were there for the 21st anniversary, people
there were so proud and excited to have you in person come there after you had transfigured
the place, that there was an audience
almost as big as this. And back there, there were
— what do you call them?>>Nina Totenberg: Bleachers.>>Wendy Williams: Bleachers. Bleachers. And all the cadets were
there in their uniforms. And for Ruth Ginsburg, they
all stood up and applauded. It was just remarkable. [ Applause ]>>Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg: As it turns out, Justice Scalia was
the sole descender.>>Wendy Williams: Yes.>>Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg: Of the VMI case. The then Chief, Chief
Justice Rehnquist, didn’t join my opinion but
he did join the judgment. Justice Thomas was recused
because his son attended VMI.>>Wendy Williams: He
couldn’t participate.>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
So that left Scalia all alone. But Justice Scalia knew I
felt deeply about the case and as he did the other way. And he came to my chambers
one day, threw down a sheaf of papers and said, Ruth,
this is the penultimate draft of my descent in the VMI case. I’m not ready to
circulate to the court. But the clock was ticking and he
wanted to give me as much time as he could to answer his
rather strident descent.>>Nina Totenberg:
You were going to the Second Circuit
meeting that week.>>Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg: Yes, I was going to the judicial
conference in Lake George. I was on the plane,
opened up his descent. It absolutely ruined my weekend. But I was certainly glad to
have the extra time to respond.>>Nina Totenberg: So,
talking about VMI reminds me that when you get to the
court Justice O’Connor of course was the
first woman justice. She’s there, she’s been
there for quite a while.>>Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg: 12 years.>>Nina Totenberg: By herself. And as you would later learn
that’s no fun, because you got to be the only one
for a while too. You know, she was
a Regan appointee. She was a girl of the west. You were a Clinton appointee. You were from New York City. And I wondered — you very
quickly though established a very special bond.>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
She was as close as I came to having a big sister. When I came on board,
she gave me some advice. Not too much. She didn’t want to douse me with
— with excessive information. Just what I needed to know to
navigate those first few weeks. And then she was an enormous
help in my first cancer bout. Justice O’Connor had
a mastectomy and was on the bench nine days
after her surgery. So, she was going to tell
me how to manage this. She said, you schedule
chemotherapy for a Friday, that way you can get over
it during the weekend and be back in court on Monday. And she also said,
you’re going to get — in those days there were not
yet emails, but you’re going to get calls, you’re going
to get letters from all over. Don’t even try to respond. Just concentrate on getting
the course work done.>>Nina Totenberg: I’m not
telling any secrets here when I say that in — in many
of the court’s biggest cases of late, you are — not all — but you are in the minority
on the descending side. But you know, in the last five
years or more, you have pulled out some unexpected victories. And I’m thinking for instance of the courts 2015
decision upholding Arizona’s redistricting commissions. These were created by state
referendum by the voters to limit partisanship
in the drawing of legislative districts
in the state. And, will you tell the
audience what your opinion said?>>Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg: The opinion said?>>Nina Totenberg:
The opinion said. You upheld them. Why?>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
Because something needs to be done about the
partisan jerrymander — [ Applause ] I think it — California was
in the lead, then Arizona. The good voters of Arizona were
tired of drawing district lines when there was very
little incentive to vote because your district
had been rigged. It was going to be a Republican
seat or a Democratic seat. So, the vote didn’t count. That’s not the way a
democracy should run. [ Applause ] So, Arizona and California
had the idea — and this was not done by
the state legislatures. State legislatures were
not willing to give up the monopoly they
had on redistricting. So, the good people of the state
said, this should be done — the redistricting should be done
by an independent commission. Not by partisan members
of the legislature. It presented a constitutional
question, because the constitution says
redistricting will be done by the legislature thereof. So, some of my colleagues said
legislature means legislature. It doesn’t mean the people. To me it seemed quite clear that the state had made
the people the legislature for this purpose. States that have
referendum do that. They give the decision voice to
the people, to we the people. And not the partisan
members of the legislature. But I think after that case
other states were encouraged, other states that
had referendum.>>Nina Totenberg: So, the
descent in that case was written by Chief Justice Roberts and
he argued very vigorously that the legislature means
only the legislature. Now, fast forward to this year, a five to four conservative
majority ruled essentially that the voters have no ability to challenge extreme partisan
jerrymanders in court. But at the same time,
the opinion written — this time the majority opinion
written by the Chief Justice, seemed to suggest
that other remedies like independent redistricting
commissions provide alternative ways to address the problem of
partisanship in redistricting. So, could you please
explain what’s going on here? Have the courts conservatives
changed their minds about redistricting? Is this just window
dressing or what?>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
As one lives, one learns. So, I think the Chief learned
that he was wrong in the — [ Applause ]>>Nina Totenberg: So, I want
you to look at this crowd. They tell me this
is 4,000 people. I’m not quite sure. Next week you and I are
going to another interview in Little Rock, Arkansas. In a venue that holds
18,000 people. And not only are all
the tickets gone, there’s a waiting
list of 16,000 people. [ Applause ] So, so my dear Notorious RBG
[laughter], how does it feel to be a cultural and
pop icon in your 80s? [ Cheering and Applause ]>>Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg: It’s amazing. At the advanced age
of 86 everyone wants to take a picture with me. The Notorious RBG was started
by a second year student at New York University
Law School. She was dismayed about a
decision the court had recently rendered in the Shelby
County case. That held the key provision
of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 unconstitutional. Then she thought to herself,
I’m angry about that. But anger will not
get me any place. So, I’m going to do
something positive. The positive thing that she did
was she put on the internet — Tumblr — the announcement
I made from the bench of my descending opinion
in the Shelby County case. And she called it the
Notorious RBG because she had in mind a well-known
rapper, the Notorious BIG. And people ask me, what is the
world do you have in common with the Notorious BIG? I said, it’s evident. We were both born and bred
in Brooklyn, New York. [ Cheering and Applause ]>>Nina Totenberg:
By the way, when you and Justice O’Connor were on
the court, even at the end of her tenure some very seasoned
Supreme Court advocates, not newbies, really seasoned
people kept confusing you. And they would call
you Justice O’Connor and her Justice Ginsburg,
and excuse me, you don’t look anything alike. She had at least
six inches on you. Her hairstyle was different. Her accent was diff —
everything was different. Why?>>Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg: Well, for 12 years, Sandra Day O’Connor was the
lone woman on the Supreme Court. And advocates were accustomed to there being a
woman on the court. Her name was Sandra
Day O’Connor. So, they heard a woman’s voice,
it had to be Justice O’Connor. She would sometimes say,
I’m Justice O’Connor. She’s Justice Ginsburg. That happened not to
just occasional lawyers who showed up, but even
the Solicitor General. He was mortified as soon as
he called me Justice O’Connor. He realized the mistake
that he had made.>>Nina Totenberg:
He said he wanted — wished that there was a
trap door under his feet.>>Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg: But nowadays, we are 1/3 of the bench. [ Applause ] And we’re all over the bench because of my seniority
I sit next to the Chief with Justice Sotomayor
on one side and Justice Kagan on the other. People who have attended
argument at the court know that my — my two sisters in
law are not shrinking violets. They’re very active in
the hulabo that goes on. In fact, I think for some
years there was a rivalry between Justice Scalia
and Justice Sotomayor, who could ask the
most questions.>>Wendy Williams:
And sometimes she won.>>Nina Totenberg: So, it
seems to me appropriate, since we began this interview
talking about Justice Scalia, we should end it
in some ways there. Because the two of you were
such pals for so many decades and such unlikely — it was
such an unlikely friendship, to people from the outside. Why were you — what did
you love about him so much?>>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
He was a very funny man. We had been buddies
on the DC Circuit for some years before he was
appointed to the Supreme Court. And that was a three
judge bench. Sometimes he would whisper
something to me that was so funny I had everything I
could do to contain myself from bursting out into
hysterical laughter. And the Supreme Court, when we
didn’t sit next to each other, he would sometimes
send me notes. I can’t repeat to this
audience what some of them were. And there’s — there’s a comic
opera called Scalia/Ginsburg that characterizes
the two of us. The different way we
approach reading legal text. But our reverence for the
court as an institution and for our constitution. So [inaudible] was
just a small sample of this very amusing opera. Scalia’s opening
aria is a rage aria. It’s very Handlin in style. And it goes like this. The justices are blind. How can they possibly
spout this? The Constitution said
absolutely nothing about this. And then I answer him. Dear Justice Scalia,
you are searching for bright line solutions
to problems that don’t have easy answers. But, the great thing
about our constitution is that like our society
it can evolve. [ Applause ] So, the plot is roughly
based onThe Magic Flute. Justice Scalia is
locked up in a dark room. He is being punished for
excessive dissenting. And I enter the dark room
through a glass ceiling. [ Cheering and Applause ] And say I’m there to help him
pass the tests he needs to pass to get out of the dark room. And a character called
The Commentatori said, why would you want to help him? He’s your enemy. And I explain he’s not my enemy. He’s my dear friend. And then we sing a
wonderful duet [laughter] that goes like this. We are different, we are one. Different in our
approach to legal text, but one in our reverence
for the institution we serve and for the United
States Constitution. [ Applause ]>>Nina Totenberg:
So, I know this seems like a very short time. But we have already exceeded it. And I thank the Justice, her
biographers, all the people here who waited so long to come. This has been a lovely morning. Thank you, Justice Ginsburg. [ Cheering and Applause ]>>Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg: Thank you. Thank you very much. Everyone please,
please be seated. Thank you. [ Cheering and Applause ] Thank you. I think we should move out.>>Nina Totenberg: Okay. Exit stage right. [ Cheering and Applause ]>>Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsburg: Thank you. Thank you very much. [ Cheering and Applause ]

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