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Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar Delivers Remarks at the Special Sitting of the Supreme Court


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

At a meeting today of the Bar of this Court, resolutions memorializing our deep respect and affection for Justice Ginsburg were adopted unanimously.

Today, the Bar of this Court gathers to pay tribute to Justice Ginsburg, a pathmarking jurist who served the nation for twenty seven years as an Associate Justice of this Court. Justice Ginsburg dedicated her life to making real the Constitution’s promise of equality under the law and the Framers’ aspiration that we build a “more perfect Union.” She helped transform the landscape of this country, fighting discrimination and forging opportunities for all persons to achieve their potential. All told, she authored over 1,100 opinions, each a model of her characteristic efficiency, clarity and decency. The Torah’s command, “justice, justice thou shalt pursue,” graced the wall of her chambers and inspired her in everything she did.

Joan Ruth Bader was born in Brooklyn in 1933, the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants. From early on, Justice Ginsburg was heavily influenced by her mother, who, she said, taught her two lessons. In Justice Ginsburg’s words: “One was to ‘be a lady,’ and that meant conduct yourself civilly, don’t let emotions like anger or envy get in your way. And the other was to be independent, which was an unusual message for mothers of that time to be giving their daugh­ters.”

At Cornell University, Justice Ginsburg studied government under Robert Cushman, who inspired her with stories of lawyers standing up for the First Amendment during the McCarthy era. It was also at Cornell, on a blind date in 1950, that she met Martin Ginsburg. The Justice liked to say that Marty was “the first boy I ever dated who cared that I had a brain.” What followed was a marriage for the ages, one that mod­eled for the world her vision of gender equality.

The Ginsburgs moved to Ok­lahoma, where Marty served in the Army and the couple welcomed a daughter, Jane.

In 1956, the couple moved to Cambridge for Marty to continue and the Justice to begin studies at Harvard Law School. One of nine women in a class of over 500, Justice Ginsburg earned top grades and was selected for the Harvard Law Review. During her second year, Marty was diagnosed with cancer. With her superhuman work ethic, the Justice managed to support Marty, care for Jane, keep up her own studies and coordinate Marty’s classmates to take notes for him, which she typed every night.

After Marty recovered, the Ginsburgs moved to New York for his new job. Justice Ginsburg transferred to Columbia Law School and graduated tied for first in her class. But she struggled to find a job because, as she recounted, she had three strikes against her:  she was a woman, a mother, and Jewish. Her mentor, Professor Gerald Gunther, finally secured her a clerkship by promising to provide a male replacement should Justice Ginsburg not work out. Judge Edmund Palmieri later referred to the Justice as one of his all-time best clerks.

In 1963, Justice Ginsburg joined the Rutgers faculty. She was paid less than her male counterparts because, as the dean explained, she had a husband with a good job. Teach­ing on a year-to-year contract, Ginsburg hid her pregnancy with her son James until she had the next year’s contract in hand.

In 1972, Columbia hired Justice Ginsburg to become its first tenured female faculty member. That same year, the Justice helped found the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Pro­ject. As head of the Project, she argued six gender-discrimination cases in this Court. In the first, she represented an Air Force officer challenging the military’s policy of automatically providing certain benefits to military wives but not husbands. Her argument was a masterclass — and her client prevailed eight-to-one. Throughout the 70s, Justice Ginsburg successfully litigated cases promot­ing gender equality, ranging from the routine exemption of women from jury pools to the denial of social security benefits to male surviving spouses.

In 1980, President Carter nominated Justice Ginsburg to the D.C. Cir­cuit. And in 1993, President Clinton nominated her to this Court. At her confirmation hearings, the Justice proudly in­troduced herself as the child of immigrants. She reflected: “What has become of me could happen only in America. Like so many others, I owe so much to the entry this Nation afforded to people yearning to breathe free.” The Senate confirmed her by a vote of 96-to-3.

Over the next 27 years, Justice Ginsburg left an indel­ible mark on the law in countless ways — too many to list here. Central to her legacy are the opinions in which she championed the idea that all persons should be afforded what she called “equal citizenship stature” under the Constitution. For example, in her landmark opinion for the Court in United States v. Virginia, she wrote that the Constitution prohibits relying on generalizations to deny “equal opportunity to aspire, achieve, participate in and contribute to society based on their individual talents and capacities.” She consistently voted to bolster the democratic process, defending “the core principle that voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.” She urged the Court to reckon with real-world power dynamics, vividly describing a “humiliating strip-down search” of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl. And she served as the Court’s resident expert on matters of procedure, emphasizing systemic integrity, fair access to the courts and the need for judicial redress for government wrongdoing — with fairness always as the cornerstone.

Justice Ginsburg was a lifelong optimist. Some of that optimism stemmed from her belief that people of different ideological views could share the same faith in the Constitution and the Court’s role in safeguarding its principles. Her famous friendship with Justice Scalia is a perfect example; she embraced their shared reverence for the Constitution and this Court.

Justice Ginsburg will be remembered as one of our country’s great heroes. Her commit­ment to truth, justice and equality changed the course of American history and inspired millions across the world. Those of us who were lucky enough to know the Justice will remember her brilliance, her love for Marty and her family, her quiet humor, her unparalleled work ethic, her tireless attention to getting every detail “just right,” her courage in battling cancer, her great love of this country and above all, her abiding goodness. And I will remember the extraordinary year I spent in her chambers, witnessing up close her grace, her devotion to the law, and her unyielding spirit.

Gathered here together, looking back at her life, the members of the Bar of the Supreme Court express our admiration and respect for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, our loss upon her death, our appreciation for her contributions to the law and the Nation and our gratitude for her example of a life well lived.

On behalf of the Bar of the Supreme Court, it is my privilege to present to the Court the resolutions adopted today, so that the Attorney General may move their inscription on the Court’s permanent record.

Updated March 17, 2023