Saturday, February 07, 2015


I took a day off from work yesterday, traveled to Ann Arbor, and listened to a conversation with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Two law professors that were her former clerks asked questions. I was expecting a more casual conversation with her doing most of talking.  I was hoping for a meaty lecture from her. Instead, it felt more like a Q & A for a magazine.

I found some points of the program to be interesting. Although I knew gay marriage wasn't going to be discussed because the issue hasn't been brought up and settled by the court, I was wondering if there was some reading between the lines that could be done. She brought up a story where a man lost his wife while giving birth to their child. He applied for social security survivor benefits but found that he did not qualify because those benefits were meant for widows and not widowers. He brought a case and she said that some of the justices believed that this was discrimination against the woman (because it assumes something about the worth of a woman-her earnings did not provide benefits to her husband whereas a husband's earnings does provide benefits to his wife). Others believed it was a discrimination against the man. She then said that one of them, then Justice Rehnquist, said that the real injured party here was the child - who doesn't care whether the surviving parent is the woman or the man only that the care is provided. I suppose her larger point is that rather than deciding whether a law should be thrown out or upheld-because throwing out benefits would be disastrous-broadening "imperfect laws" to cover discriminated groups is preferable. So read into that what you will.

She had some more light-hearted moments when she talked about her being known as The Notorious RBG. She also seemed delighted that there is an opera about about her and fellow Justice Scalia. 

The real big kick that I got out of was that she embraced being known for her dissents as well as her confidence that her dissents will one day be the prevailing view and or law. Her example was the Ledbetter case where a woman was suing her employer after finding out that her pay was lower than her male coworkers that were in the similar roles. The court said that she had to file within 180 of the discriminatory action--but this had been going on for years and she didn't know. Ginsburg was of the mind that the discriminatory action happened with every paycheck that she Ledbetter got. Although she wasn't in with the majority of the court, Congress then passed a law in which the 180-day requirement resets with every paycheck.

Unfortunately, the talk was only about an hour and a half. I enjoyed it so much and I could have listened for far longer.

Oh, one observation about the audience was that I got the sense that they were real fans of Ginsburg and were not so keen on Justice Scalia. They were well aware that Ginsburg and Scalia seem to be opposite poles on the court. I wondered how aware they were that those two are actually good friends.


john said...

HIya....glad to see you are posting again.

David said...

Hey John. Yes, I am trying to get back into the swing of it.