What is the legal legacy of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg?
King’s College senior fellow scholar Mark Smith and University of Memphis law professor Steve Mulroy discuss Ginsburg’s career.
The Supreme Court justices responded to the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, praising her character, judgment and respect toward her colleagues.
With the passing of Ginsburg, the court has lost one of its longest-serving justices. Ginsburg was famous for her strong views and keen rhetoric, but lesser known was perhaps her friendship with Antonin Scalia, the late associate justice who was her political opposite. Ginsburg was capable of putting politics aside and forming strong friendships with her peers, and it showed in the statements from her fellow justices upon learning of her death at the age of 87.
The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court gather for a formal group portrait to include the new Associate Justice, top row, far right, at the Supreme Court Building in Washington, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. Seated from left: Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Associate Justice Samuel Alito Jr. Standing behind from left: Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Elena Kagan and Associate Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
As the only justice to serve longer than Ginsburg, Clarence Thomas had worked with Ginsburg more than the other justices. In a statement, he described Ginsburg as “the essence of grace, civility, and dignity.” He praised her as a superb judge who “gave her best and exacted the best from each of us.”
“And, as outstanding as she was as a judge, she was an even better colleague – unfailingly gracious, thoughtful, and civil,” Thomas wrote.
Thomas continued: “Through her loss of her wonderful husband, Marty, and her countless health challenges, she was a picture of grace and courage. Not once did the pace and quality of her work suffer even as she was obviously suffering grievously. Nor did her demeanor toward her colleagues diminish.”
He called Ginsburg’s death “profoundly difficult and so very sad.”
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Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the newest justice on the bench, knew her for only two years, but he was also effusive in his praise, saying that “no American has ever done more than Justice Ginsburg to ensure equal justice under law for women.”
“She was a cherished colleague, and she inspired me, and all of us, with her unparalleled work ethic and devotion to the law," Kavanaugh wrote of his late colleague. "A meticulous and pathmarking judge, she held herself to the highest standards of precision and accuracy in her beautifully crafted opinions. And she inspired all of us to try to meet those same exacting standards."
He described the trailblazing achievements of Ginsburg, and he discussed more personal moments with Ginsburg, such as shared daily lunches and a photo Kavanaugh keeps of Ginsburg in his office – along with four women who clerked for him during his first term.
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Ginsburg famously voted with a strong left-leaning, matched best by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The Obama-appointed justice spoke highly of Ginsburg, calling her a “hero” and a “pathbreaking champion of women’s rights.”
“I will miss Ruth greatly," Sotomayor said in a statement, "She welcomed me to the Court with a warmth I could not have expected, and I came to feel a special kinship with her. She was someone whose wisdom, kindness, and unwavering support I could always rely on. I will forever cherish the moments we shared."
Sotomayor added: “As an attorney, she led the fight to grant women equal rights under the law. As a judge, she did justice every day — working to ensure that this country's legal system lives up to its ideals and extends its rights and protections to those once excluded. And in both roles, she held to — indeed, exceeded — the highest standards of legal craft.”
Sotomayor also spoke of Ginsburg not just as a role model, but a colleague and friend. She praised Ginsburg for her “intellect, generosity, sly wit, and manifest integrity.”
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Another of her left-leaning colleagues, Elena Kagan, spoke of Ginsburg as a mentor as well as a colleague, describing her work as "careful and creative, as disciplined as it was visionary."
"Ruth reached out to encourage and assist me in my career, as she did for so many others, long before I came to the Supreme Court," Kagan wrote in a statement. "And she guided and inspired me, on matters large and small, once I became her colleague. I will miss her — her intellect, her generosity, her sly wit, her manifest integrity, and her endless capacity for work — for the rest of my life."
"May her memory be a blessing."
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Other justices were more concise in their comments.
Chief Justice John Roberts called Ginsburg “a jurist of historic stature,” saying that “we mourn, but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her – a tireless and resolute champion of justice.”
Justice Samuel Alito also praised Ginsburg as a “leading figure in the history of the Court,” saying “she will be remembered for her intelligence, learning, and remarkable fortitude. She has been and will continue to be an inspiration for many.”
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Another recent addition, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, described Ginsburg as “a cherished colleague and friend,” and said that “her sacrifices for the country were many, but always performed with honor.”
“We are blessed by the happy memories that will remain, like traveling with Ruth to London where (to her delight) an uninformed guide kept calling her ‘Ruthie,’ or all the opera she tried so valiantly to teach me, or her sweet tooth at lunch, or the touching stories of her remarkable life with Marty," Gorsuch wrote in a statement.
“We will miss Ruth and our hearts go out to her family. May she rest in peace.”
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Former Justice Anthony M. Kennedy also released a statement, saying that “the Court will cherish all that Justice Ginsburg meant to us as a distinguished jurist and an inspiring, wonderful person.”
“She will have an esteemed piece in the history of our Court. Ruth was a close, dear friend. Mary joins me in sending our deepest sympathies to her family,” Kennedy said.
“By her learning she taught devotion to the law. By her dignity she taught respect for others and her love for America. By her reverence for the Constitution, she taught us to preserve it to secure our freedom.”
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Perhaps the most intimate tribute was that of Justice Stephen Breyer, another Clinton appointee who was only 1 year junior to Justice Ginsburg. Ginsburg’s passing occurred on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Breyer says he learned of her passing while he recited the Mourner’s Kaddish.
“I thought: a great justice; a woman of valor; a rock of righteousness; and my good, good friend. The world is a better place for her having lived in it. And so is her family; her friends; the legal community; and the nation.”
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