Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks to sold out crowd at RU

By Rachel Popa, Managing Editor

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Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Photo Courtesy of Roosevelt University.

The American Dream, in concept, is an ideal that is obtainable for those who work hard for it. However, achieving the American Dream does not come without its challenges and roadblocks.

On Sept. 11, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg kicked off RU’s second annual “American Dream Reconsidered” conference, speaking to a sold-out crowd at the Auditorium Theatre about her life, including the difficulty she faced as a woman getting her start in the legal profession. University president Ali Malekzadeh introduced Justice Ginsburg to an excited crowd.

“She’s a model for all of us. Someone who has not let prejudice or difficulty bar her way. Against all odds, she has succeeded in her goals and relentlessly pursued justice,” Malekzadeh said.  

U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Ann Claire Williams, the first African American judge appointed to the Northern District of Illinois, and the first to sit on the 7th Circuit Appeals Court, moderated the conversation.

“I had three strikes against me,” Ginsburg said. “First, I was Jewish…then being a woman…no firm would take a chance on the mother of a four-year-old.”

Ginsburg told the audience how she got her start in law, and the barriers she had to overcome to succeed. She recalled one of her early experiences with a dean at Harvard Law School.

“He invited all of the women in the first year class to have dinner at his home,” Ginsburg said. “After dinner, the dean seated us in his living room and said, ‘Now I want each of you in turn to to tell me what you’re doing at his law school occupying a seat that could be held by a man.’”

Ginsburg said that the dean later told her that he didn’t ask the question to upset or offend the women; rather he wanted to have stories from women to tell to colleagues who were apprehensive about admitting women into law school.

After graduating, Ginsburg said she applied to as many law firms that would accept an application from a woman.

Ginsburg received no job offers after her graduation. However, she said that one of her professors, Jerry Gunther, had to worked with a colleague from Columbia Law School to help get Ginsburg her first job. Gunther also promised that a man would take Ginsburg’s place if she were to fail at the job.

Williams remarked that things have changed since Ginsburg was starting out in law. Today, 51 percent of law students are women, Williams said.

After getting her first job in law, Ginsburg went on to have a career helping fight for women’s rights. Ginsburg helped found the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, and went on to argue six gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court, winning five.

At 84 years old, Ginsburg spoke about her future on the Court, including the possibility of retirement. She alluded to an opera about the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia and herself.

“The Scalia/Ginsburg opera ends with Scalia’s death,” Ginsburg said. “I remain on the stage, silent for a moment, and then I say, ‘There’s work to be done. I will remain to do it as long as I can, full steam.’”

While Ginsburg has helped pave the way for women entering the legal profession, she said there is still progress to be made.

“There will be enough [female Supreme Court justices] when there are nine,” Ginsburg said.

Ginsburg recalled Associate Justice Sandra day O’Connor telling her that when women are out there doing things in the legal profession, there will be more opportunities for women.

“I think there has not been a better time to be a woman in the legal profession, because no doors are closed,” Ginsburg said. “I won’t say there’s no discrimination. That would be an exaggeration.”

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