MoFo News Item

Remembering Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg - A Message from Our Chair, Larren M. Nashelsky

20 Sep 2020

As a firm, we mourn the passing of United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her legacy on equal rights in the workplace, reproductive rights, marriage equality, voting rights, immigration, and healthcare, among so many other social justice issues, demands that she be remembered not merely as a legal pioneer and a progressive but as a true legend. 

Justice Ginsburg was an extraordinary and fierce champion of women’s rights and gender equality. Her entire life — from founding the Women's Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1972 to becoming the first tenured female professor at Columbia Law School that same year — is a powerful reminder of the importance of continuing to actively promote the advancement of women in society, and women in law, in particular. It is also a timely reminder of the importance of standing for one’s values, and that the fight for social justice should be relentless if it is to continue to yield change. Her life was a pilgrimage toward justice. I hope we find the path she walked on again.

She undoubtedly inspired many to join the legal profession and will continue to do so for countless others in years to come. Two of our partners, Joe Palmore and David Newman, as well as incoming associate, Michael Qian, had the honor to clerk for Justice Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court and can attest to how kind a person she was, in addition to her formidable might as a Justice.

Joe shared this powerful personal anecdote to illustrate what a kind and caring person she was:

“During my clerkship, my wife and I were having trouble finding daycare for my one-year-old son. I had bemoaned the situation to my co‑clerks but had no idea that the Justice knew, much less that she would try to fix the problem. I was wrong.

One day, I accompanied the Justice to a speech at the Georgetown Law Center. Afterwards, we squeezed into an elevator with Court security officers and Georgetown personnel to depart. When the doors closed, the Justice asked, “Where is the daycare center?” Baffled, one of the Georgetown escorts said it was in the basement. The Justice answered, “I’d like to go there.” So we did.

We got off the elevator, and the Justice led me and the rest of the entourage into the daycare center. At the front desk, she announced, “Hello, I’m Justice Ginsburg. My clerk, Joe, is looking for a daycare spot for his son, Simon. We’d like a tour.” The Justice and I then navigated the blocks, toys, and toddlers to check out the daycare center. Together. Thank you, Justice, for everything.”

David, with similarly fond memories of the Justice, shared this story that resonates:

“During late nights as a law clerk in Chambers, I often passed the time listening to recordings available online of the Justice’s arguments as an advocate. Her voice was stronger and more youthful, but still distinctively hers with her hallmark precision with language. I remember being particularly struck listening to a recording of her 1978 argument in Missouri v. Duren, a case that challenged a state law granting an automatic exemption from jury service to all women – but not all men – if they requested one. Like many of her victories before it, the case involved a discriminatory law that superficially disadvantaged men.

As Ginsburg starts to sum up in her characteristically precise manner, she stresses that an earlier precedent on which she relies was decided by an 8-1 vote. Justice Rehnquist — the “one” in that 8-1 case — cuts her off with, ‘You won’t settle for putting Susan B. Anthony on the new dollar, right?’ And Ginsburg just stops and sits down, ending her argument without dignifying it with a response, leading to an awkward silence where nobody is talking.

When I asked the Justice about that moment the next morning in Chambers and told her I thought her response was perfect, she chuckled in recognition. Ever the advocate, she shared that she thought of a snappy comeback as soon as she sat down only to realize it was too late to stand back up. But she quickly followed up by noting that Justice Rehnquist went on to write the Hibbs decision on the constitutionality of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which cited approvingly to earlier cases she had argued including Reed and Frontiero, and she praised things he had done as Chief Justice.

I am fond of this story because it reflects what a spirited advocate she was and how much the Court changed in her lifetime, but also because it captures her capacity to see beyond the many injustices she overcame, and to take joy in the immense good she accomplished. She will be missed.”

May her memory be a blessing.

Larren M. Nashelsky, Chair of Morrison & Foerster

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