Ruth Bader Ginsburg remembered by Lisa Beattie Frelinghuysen
15 March 1933 – 18 September 2020
The revered US supreme court justice’s former clerk recalls a friend who cared passionately about the dignity and rights of all
Before she became the Notorious RBG, Justice Ginsburg was my hero. I had worked at the American Civil Liberties Union and knew of her advocacy establishing gender equality in the law. I was beyond excited years later to interview for a judicial clerkship with her, and yet the interview began in the most awkward way. She appeared at the door of her Watergate apartment, elegant and soft spoken. I noticed my writing samples in her left hand, a bright red circle around a few words on the first page. My heart sank. Did I actually send an article with an error?! She noted that I omitted a “per curium” parenthetical following a case name. I smiled at her precision – she was of course correct – and explained that I was writing for a lay audience, omitting the Latin to keep their attention. She gave me a kind pass. We proceeded to have a rich discussion about gender equality and reproductive justice. I was thrilled when she then offered me the clerkship.
That year, October term 1995, a big women’s rights case came before the supreme court: United States v Virginia, challenging the male-only admission policy at Virginia Military Institute (VMI). The experience of researching, drafting, and polishing the landmark opinion brought us close together. She cared a great deal about this case. Drawing on case law she helped establish as a women’s rights litigator, this was her first gender equality opinion as a supreme court justice. She was persuasive here too: a large majority of the justices joined her opinion, in which she noted that VMI had continued to exclude women, when our constitutional understanding of who was included in “We the People” had expanded.