On February 6, NYLS will host U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the 2018 Sidney Shainwald Public Interest Lecture. The event will be a conversation between Justice Ginsburg and Professor Nadine Strossen, the first female President of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Professor Strossen reflected on the opportunity to interview her longtime friend and mentor.
How are you feeling in the lead-up to the event?
This is a chance to interview one of my heroines. Who wouldn’t be excited? This event is especially meaningful for me because I first laid eyes on then-lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg when I was a law student myself in the early 1970s. She was in charge of the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU and already very admired for her work. There were almost no female students at my law school [Harvard Law School], only one female faculty member, and very few female attorneys. Justice Ginsburg was one of the first woman lawyers, and certainly the most important woman lawyer, I had ever heard. She opened my eyes to how the ACLU would be a wonderful organization for advancing women’s rights as part of its larger human rights and civil liberties agenda. I have no doubt that she was a powerful influence in steering me towards working there.
How did your relationship with Justice Ginsburg develop?
After seeing Justice Ginsburg speak at Harvard, the next contact I had with her was almost 20 years later in 1991, when I became President of the ACLU. Then-Judge Ginsburg—she was a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judge at the time and still a heroine—wrote me a very lovely handwritten note congratulating me and wishing me well. We continued to stay in touch. She was a wonderful friend and mentor and always so generous whenever I would ask her for guidance. Eventually, I felt comfortable confessing to her that in addition to the significant intellectual and professional impact she had on me, she also made a big impact in terms of her style. To this day, I remember exactly what she was wearing when I first saw her speak and how I wanted very much to find the same or a similar outfit. It is no surprise to me that she has become a social media rock star for not only her legal and judicial leadership, but also her sense of fashion.
Why was it important to you to collect student ideas for discussion questions?
I put myself in the position I was in when I first saw Justice Ginsburg and heard her speak —and I want to make sure our students have an opportunity to help guide this discussion, which I can attest from personal experience will forever be a highlight of their careers. In addition, she is incredibly generous to give us 90 minutes of her precious time, but it’s still a short amount of time considering everything she knows so much about—from countless doctrinal legal questions, to women’s rights, to work-life balance, and much more. I wanted to prioritize questions that were of most interest to our students, who are the future of the profession.
What kinds of questions have you received?
They’ve been very wide-ranging. I thought it was interesting, given that the Law School has such an outstanding moot court team, that quite a few questions were about what makes an effective brief or oral argument. There were also questions seeking advice for young lawyers in general and young women lawyers in particular, questions about her career and personal life, and a diverse array of questions about many specific legal doctrines, how the Supreme Court operates, and the judicial appointment process.
What do you hope to get out of the conversation?
I hope that it will further inspire students to see how much opportunity and potential power they have, as a result of the privilege of a legal education, to advance justice—however they might envision justice according to their own particular values. Justice Ginsburg is someone who started her women’s rights work at a time when the Supreme Court had never interpreted the Equal Protection Clause as protecting gender equality. Today, for all the challenges we still face on that front, we are light years from that era. As someone who played an enormous role in effectuating that change, Justice Ginsburg embodies what one dedicated lawyer can achieve. Whatever listeners’ views might be of justice or the public interest, they should be inspired by how she helped make her vision into a reality, and encouraged to apply their own legal skills toward advancing their ideals.
Watch the Event Live
The event will be webcast live (Tuesday, February 6 at 12:00 p.m. EST) at www.nyls.edu/shainwald2018.