tv The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations PBS January 16, 2021 6:00pm-7:01pm PST
♪ announcer: support for the pbs presentation of this program was provided by general motors. announcer: the world is ever-changing. what hasn't really changed is the way we move around it. but that way is giving way to a whole generation of people who will charge their cars just like their phones and who will judge vehicles not by the rev of an engine, but by the hum of change. the start button to an all-electric future has been pushed. david rubinstein: so, if you have a 5-4 prospective decision, does one of the justices go to the--another justice and say, "why don't you change your mind?" does that work very much, or-- ruth bader ginsburg: no. there's no horse trading at the court. david: you've also gotten a lot of attention for your exercise, uh, routine. [audience laughter]
ruth: when it comes time to meet my trainer, i drop everything. david: many people think that the court is very political. ruth: people have that view because agreement isn't interesting. disagreement is. woman: would you fix your tie, please? david: well, people wouldn't recognize me if my tie was fixed, but ok. [woman chuckles] woman: then leave it. david: just leave it this way. all right. and nobody else would consider self a journalist. i began to take on the life of being an interviewer, even though i have a day job of running a private equity firm. how do you define leadership? what is it that makes somebody tick? let me ask you a question at the beginning: how does it feel to get up in the morning and know that 330 million americans
want to know the state of your health that day? [laughter] ruth: how does it feel? encouraging. [laughter] as cancer survivors know, that dread disease is a challenge, and it helps to know that people are rooting for you. now, it's not universal. [laughter] when i had pancreatic cancer in 2009, there was a senator whose name i don't recall, but he said i would be dead within 6 months. [scattered chuckling] that senator is now no longer alive. [laughter and applause] david: but you can't remember his name? ruth, chuckling: no, i don't remember his name. david: but your current view is that as long as you're healthy and able to do the job, you intend to stay on the court. is that correct?
ruth: as long as i'm healthy and mentally agile. [applause] david: all right. so... [applause abates] now, justice stevens, and later-- and previously justice oliver wendell holmes, they retired when they were 90. would you like to break their record, or you-- any thought about that? ruth: i spent the first week in july with justice stevens in what turned out to be the last week of his life. he was remarkable. he was 99 years old. since he left the court at age 90, he has written 4 books, so yes, he's my role model. david: so, um, today, many people think that the court is very political, that people appointed to the court by democratic presidents, and those appointed by republican presidents, tend to follow the political desires
of the republican or democratic party. do you think that's a fair assessment, and why do you think, if it's not fair, people have that view? ruth: people have that view because agreement isn't interesting; disagreement is, so the press tends to play up our 5-4 or our 5-3 decisions. but if we can take just last term as a typical example, we had 68 decisions after full briefing and argument. of those, 20 were 5-4 or 5-3 divisions, but 29 were unanimous, so we agree more often than we sharply disagree, and that's something i would like the audience to take away, that the divisions, yes, they are
on some very important questions, but our agreement rate is always higher than our disagreement rate. david: so if you have a 5-4 prospective decision, does one of the justices go to the--another justice and say, "why don't you change your mind?" does that work very much or-- ruth: no. heh! there's no horse trading at the court. it-- david: nobody says, "if you vote for me on this one, i'll vote for you on that one"? that doesn't happen? [laughter] ruth: it never happens, but we are constantly trying to persuade each other, and most often, we do it through our writing. every time i write a dissent for 4, i am hopeful that i can pick up a fifth vote. it once happened that i was assigned a dissent by my senior colleague. the court divided, a count from 7, but in the fullness of time, the decision came out 6-3.
the 2 had swelled to 6, and the 7... had shrunk to 3. david: that was your opinion? ruth: yes. heh! david: right. very--very persuasive. so, um... [applause] many people in washington and around the country are surprised that the civility that exists between justices, even though they write not such favorable things about each other--so, for example, justice scalia used to say not such wonderful things about your views, and you then still went to the opera with him. was that a little awkward or hard to do? ruth: not at all, and... justice scalia and i became friends when we were buddies on the d.c. circuit. what did i love most about him? his infectious sense of humor. when we were 3 judges on the court of appeals, he'd sometimes whisper something to me.
it would crack me up. [laughter] i had all i could do to contain hysterical laughter. but we had much in common. true, our styles were very different, but both of us cared a lot about writing opinions so that at least other lawyers and judges would understand what we were saying. justice scalia was an excellent grammarian. his father had been a latin professor at brooklyn college, and his mother had been a grade school teacher, so he knew his grammar very well. and every once in a while, he'd come to chambers or he'd call me on the phone and say, "ruth, you made a grammatical error." [laughter] he never did it in writing to embarrass me before my colleagues. and sometimes i would say to him,
"you know, this opinion is so strident. you'll be more persuasive if you tone it down." and that was advice he never, never took. [laughter] david: so, now, both of you were--and you still are--a great opera lover. where did you get your love of opera to begin with, and where did the opera "scalia/ginsburg" come from? ruth: ah. i'll take the first question first. my love of opera began when i was 11 years old. i was in grade school in brooklyn, new york. my aunt, who was a middle school, junior high school english teacher, took me to a high school in brooklyn where an opera was being performed. it was "la gioconda," not a likely choice for a first opera. there was a man at the time named dean dixon,
whose mission in life was to turn children on to beautiful music, and he had an all-city orchestra. he took opera performances around to various schools, condensed them into one hour, narrated in between. there were costumes, bare staging, so my introduction to opera was thanks to dean dixon in 1944. in 1948, dean dixon left the united states because he said, in all the years he'd bn conducting, no one ever called him "maestro." he was african-american. he then went off to europe, where he was everybody's darling, and he came back to the united states in the late sixties. by that time,
every major symphony orchestra in the states wanted him as a guest conductor. he was kind of the jackie robinson of conducting. [laughter] so there was one time i was on the metropolitan opera intermission. usually it's the quiz, and i'm not in that league, but if there are two intermissions, they sometimes have an amateur who loves opera have a conversation, and i told the story about dean dixon. i don't know how many emails i received from people all over the country, saying that they had been introduced to opera by that remarkable man. david: so the "scalia/ginsburg" opera was written by a law school student? ruth: he was then a law school student.
heas a music major at harvard and a masters in music from yale. derrick wang is his name. he decided it would be useful to know something about the law, so he enrolled in his hometown law school, the university of maryland, and in his second year, he took a constitutional law course. he read these dueling opinions-- scalia on one side, ginsburg on the other-- and decided this could make a very funny opera. [laughter] so i'll just give you a taste of "scalia/ginsburg." it opens with scalia's rage aria. [laughter] it's an aria very handelian in style, and he sings, "the justices are blind. "how can they possibly spout this?
"the constitution says absolutely nothing about this." [laughter] and then, in my coloratura soprano voice, i answer, "dear justice scalia, you are searching "for bright-line solutions to problems "that don't have easy answers, "but the great thing about our constitution "is that, like our society, it can evolve." [laughter] so that--that sets up the difference between us. the plot of "scalia/ginsburg" is roughly based on "the magic flute." [laughter] he's being punished for excessive dissenting. [loud laughter] i then emerge through a glass ceiling... [laughter and applause] and... david: mm-hmm.
ruth: to help him pass the tests he needs to pass to get out of the dark room. then a character left over from "don giovanni," the commendatore... [scattered laughter] is astonished. he said... "he's your enemy. why would you want to help him?" and i say, "he's not my enemy. he's my dear friend." and then we sing a wonderful duet... [laughter] that goes, "we are different, we are one. "different in our approach to reading legal texts, "but one "in our reverence for the constitution and for the institution we serve." david: and what is your favorite opera, after all these years of watching opera?
ruth: on most days, i will say "the marriage of figaro," and on occasional days, i will say "don giovanni." what those two have in common is they're both mozart, with librettos by da ponte. they were a powerhouse as a combination, mozart and da ponte. david: oh, it's like a 5-4 decision in your mind about which one should be better, right? [laughter] so you actually have performed in operas, is that right? you have done that a number of places? ruth: only in the washington national opera, where i was a super in "ariadne auf naxos," along with justice scalia, and in "fledermaus," along with justice kennedy and justice breyer. but my crowning achievement was when i had an actual part
in an opera, and the opera was "daughter of the regiment." there is a part that's speaking, not singing. very few operas have speaking, not singing parts. i was the duchess of crakentorp, and i wrote my own lines for it. it was great fun. david: so our--most justices of the supreme court are relatively not recognized by the public, i would say. maybe, recent years, that's changed a little bit, but you are extremely well-known around the country now, but you weren't when you went on the court, but now you've become more or less a rock star... [scattered laughter] "rbg," and you have movies about you on the basis of sex and other things. so why do you think this has occurred, and is this something you don't really enjoy that much or something you just think comes with the territory now? ruth: how was "the notorious rbg" created?
[cheering and applause] it was...the idea of a second-year student at nyu law school, who was very disappointed in the court's decision in the shelby county case. and that was a case in which the court declared unconstitutional the key provision of the voting rights act of 1965, an act that had been renewed time and again by overwhelming majorities, both sides of the aisle. but the supreme court struck down the formula. the way the voting rights act worked was, if you were a state or a city or a county that kept african-americans from voting
in the not-so-good old days, you could not make any change in voting legislation unless you pre-cleared it with the department of justice, civil rights divion, or with the 3-judge district court in the district of columbia. so that advance check... suppressed many laws that would have discouraged african-americans from voting. the supreme court said, "well, the formula "for who was discriminating in 1965 "is now...out of date. "congress needs to do it over "because jurisdictions that were discriminating in 1965 may have clean hands today." the political problem was what member of congress--
what senator, what representative-- would stand up and say, "my state"-- or "my city" or "my county "is still discriminating, "so keep it under the surveillance that the voting rights act provides." it just wasn't going to happen. the act itself had a bailout provision, so if a state, city, county indeed had clean hands for several elections, it could bail out, and that device, i thought, was... david: right. ruth: was all that was needed. but in any event, this student was disturbed about the court's decision, she was angry, and then she said to herself, "anger is not a useful emotion.
i'm going to do something positive." and what she did was she took the announcement of my dissent that i read from the bench in shelby county, and she created this blog, hitting at "the notorious rbg..." [scattered laughter] a name she got from a well-known rapper... [laughter] who was called the notorious b.i.g. [laughter] and when i was asked, "well, what in the world do you have in common with the notorious b.i.g.?" i said, "it's obvious." [laughter] both of us were born and bred in brooklyn, new york. [applause] david: so... now, you were born and bred in brooklyn. you have still a bit of a brooklyn accent, you might admit. you were played in a movie
by felicity jones, who is not jewish or from brooklyn... [ruth and audience chuckle] so how do you think she did? ruth: i thought she was fantastic. when i first met felicity, i said, "you speak the queen's english. "how are you going to sound like a girl born and bred in brooklyn?" well, she listened to many tapes of my speeches and my arguments at the court, and she was wonderful. david: so, in recent years, you've also gotten lot of attention for your exercise routine. ruth: right. david: so when did that start, and you have your own trainer, and are you still, you know, lifting weights or whatever you're doing? ruth: as recently as...tuesday, and it... [applause] david: wow. ruth: i have been with the same personal trainer since 1999,
when i had my first cancer bout. i had colorectal cancer, and my dear husband said after going through surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, i looked like a survivor of auschwitz. he said, "you must do something to build yourself up. get a personal trainer." and that's when i started, in 1999. sometimes i get so absorbed in my work, i just don't want to let go. but when it comes time to meet my trainer, i drop everything. david: right. ruth: and as tired as i may be in the beginning, i always feel... much better when we finish. david: ok, so you met your husband marty, you were married for 56 years... ruth: yes. ruth: yes, and met when i was 17 and he was 18.
david: and, uh, what is the likelihood of a woman at cornell meeting somebody they marry, and that person wants to take care of child-rearing and also cooking, as well as sharing all the other burdens of being married? is that a very common thing, in your observation or... ruth: heh heh! [laughter] it was extraordinary at any time, but particularly in the 1950s. cornell, by the way had a 4-1 ratio-- 4 men to every woman. it was the place parents want to send their daughters. [laughter] see, if you couldn't find your man at cornell, you were hopeless. [laughter] so then i met marty, and he was, in fact, the first boy i ever knew who cared that i had a brain. he was always my biggest booster.
the cooking-- oh, that began... i had two years between college and law school, when marty was in service. those two years we spent in fort sill, oklahoma, the principal artillery base. i got pregnant during the first year, and when i went back to new york to give birth, my cousin sent marty a copy of the escoffier cookbook, an english translation, and said, "this will give you something to do while your wife is away." so marty had originally been a chemistry major at cornell... and he treated this escoffier cookbook like a chemistry textbook. [laughter] he started with the basic stocks and worked his way through it. he gave up chemistry because it interfered
with golf practice while he was a great golfer, and then he switched to government, which was my major. he attributed his skill in the kitchen to two women, his mother and his wife. his mother, i think was-- that was an unfair judgment, but he was certainly right about me. [laughter] i had one cookbook. it was called "the 60-minute chef," and that meant, from when you entered the apartment till when it's on the table, no more than 60 minutes. i had 7 things that i made; when we got to number 7, we went back to number one. [laughter and scattered applause] david: so did marty's mother ever give you any advice when you met her about how to be happily married? ruth: she gave me some wonderful advice. we were married in her home,
and she said, just before the ceremony started, "dear, i'd like to tell you the secret of a happy marriage." "i'd love to hear it. what is it?" "every now and then," she said, "it helps to be a little deaf." [laughter] which was such wonderf advice. i have followed it assiduously to this very day... [laughter] david: nice. ruth: as i'm dealing with my colleagues in some... [laughter] david: so... ruth: if an unkind word is said, i just tune out. david: so, as a result of your marriage to marty, who was a distinguished law professor and tax lawyer as well, you have two children. jane, your daughter, teaches at columbia? ruth: she is a morton l. janklow professor of literary and artistic property law
at columbia law school. david: ok, right. [applause] and as i understand it, you and she were the only mother-daughter team to ever actually be elected to the harvard law review. is that true? ruth: so far, yes. david: so far? oh. and you have a son who's in the music business? ruth: james makes exquisite compact discs. james grew up with a passion for music, but no talent as a performer. [laughter] so when he went to the university of chicago, he was a classical disc jockey on the student radio station. david: ok. ruth: then, in the years he was dropping in and out of law school, he was also making recordings, and one day he told us he liked what he was doing much more than his law classes. so we said, "fine. that's what you want to do." david: ok. ruth: and today his label is cedille,
and his recordings are gems. david: so do you have any grandchildren? ruth: i have 4 grandchildren, two step-grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. david: ok. [applause] and what do your, uh-- do your grandchildren call you "rbg" or what do they call you? [laughter] ruth: i'm a jewish grandmother, so i am called "bubbe." david: ok, so when you went to cornell, your grades were obviously very good. you applied to law school at harvard, you got into harvard law school. was the class half women and half men, or-- ruth: ho ho! david: that time? ruth: in those ancient days-- i went to law school from '56 to '59--in my entering class at harvard law school, there were over 500 in the class. nine of us were women. a big jump from marty's class. he was a year ahead of me. there were 5 women in his class.
and today, the harvard law school has about 50% women. [applause] david: now, in your harvard law school class, you did extremy well, and you got onto the harvard law review. and you were near the top of your class, maybe first or tied for first in your class, but then, when your husband needed to move to new york, you wanted to transfer of the harvard law school didn't think that was such a great idea if you wanted to be a harvard graduate, is that correct? ruth: yes. heh! he said i had to spend my third year at harvard. the reason i didn't was marty was diagnosed with a testicular tumor in his third year of law school. those were early days for cancer cure. there was no such thing as chemotherapy. there was only massive radiation.
we didn't know... whether he would survive, and i didn't want to be a single mom 'cause jane, my daughter, was 14 months when i started law school, so we wanted to stay together as a family. marty had a good job with a firm in new york, and so i asked the dean-- i thought it would be an easy answer-- "if i successfully complete my legal education at columbia, may i have a harvard degree?" "absolutely not. you must spend the third year here." i had the perfect rebuttal because there was a cornell classmate of mine who had had her first year of law school at penn. she transferred into our second-year class... and i said to the dean, "well, mrs. isselbacher
"will be... "will have her second and third year "and will earn a harvard degree, "but it's, i think, universally understood "that the first year of law school is by far "the most important. she has year 2 and 3, "i have year 1 and 2. it should make no difference." but i was told a rule is a rule, and that was that. david: so you went to columbia law school, and your law degree is from columbia, right? ruth: yes. david: ok, and you did extremely well at columbia law school on the review there as well? ruth: yes. david: so, on the harvard law review and the columbia law review, you were flooded with job offers from the major law firms? ruth: ha ha! [laughter] there wasn't a single firm in the entire city of new york that would take a chance on me. and i have said that i had 3 strikes against me: one, i was jewish,
and the wall street firms were just beginning to welcome jews; then i was a woman; but the absolute killer-- i was a mother because my daughter was 4 years old when i graduated from law school, so employers who might take a chance on a woman were not prepared to take a chance on a mother. david: so one of your law professors, professor gunther, got you, after many efforts, to a clerkship with judge palmieri? ruth: yes. david: was that easy to do for him because you were a mother? ruth: yes, he had no qualms about a woman. he had had a woman as a law clerk before, but he was concerned. the southern district of new york is a busy court, and sometimes he would need a law clerk's aid even on a sunday,
and he was fearful that i would not be able to do the job that needed to be done. so professor gunther-- i found out about this years later; i didn't know at the time-- said to judge palmieri, "give her a chance, and if she doesn't work out, "there's a young man in the class who's going "to a downtown firm. he will jump in and take over." and that was the carrot. it was also a stick, and the stick was, "if you don't give her a chance, "i will never recommend another columbia student to you." david: wow. ruth: and that's how-- that's how it was for women of my vintage, was getting the first job was powerfully hard. you know how justice o'connor got her first job?
she was very high in her class at stanford law school, no offer for legal employment, so she volunteered to work for a county attorney 4 months without pay and said, "if, at the end of 4 months, you think i'm worth it, you can put me on the payroll." and of course, after 4 months, it was clear that she was worth it. it was getting your foot in the door, getting that first job that was a huge hurdle. when you got the job, and the women did it at least as well as the men, so the second job was not the same obstacle. david: so, after your clerkship, you ultimately got a position as a law professor at rutgers? ruth: yes, with an interlude when i was working for the columbia project on international procedure.
david: then how did you get connected to the aclu and your trail-blazing efforts in gender discrimination and gender law? ruth: it came about first from my students at rutgers, who wanted a course on women in the law. so i repaired to the library, and inside of a month, i had read every federal decision ever written about gender-based distinctions in the law. it was no mean feat-- there was precious little-- and at the same time, new complaints were coming in to the new jersey affiliate of the aclu, colaints of the kind the aclu had not seen before. one group of complainants were public school teachers, who were put on so-called maternity leave
when their pregnancy began to show because the school district worried, "we don't want "the little children to think their teacher swallowed a watermelon." [scattered laughter] these women were--the leave was unpaid, and there was no guaranteed right to return. they began to complain. then there were blue-collar workers who wanted to get insurance for their family-- health insurance for their family-- and were told, "family coverage is available to male workers, not to female workers." female worker could cover herself, but not her family. so it was the two things coming together: the students wanting to learn about women's status under the law;
and these new complainants coming to the aclu. and for me, it was such a tremendous stroke of good fortune because, up until the start of the seventies, it simply wasn't possible to move courts in the direction of recognizing women as people of equal citizenship stature. david: you won a number of cases for the aclu on gender discrimination and became quite well-known. you later taught at columbia, but you were asked to go on to the u.s. court of appeals, the district of columbia by president carter. were you surprised to get that appointment? did you want to be a judge, or were you happy to be a professor? ruth: well, president carter deserves enormous credit
for what the federal bench looks like today. when he became president, he noticed that the federal judges all looked like him; that is, they were all white and they were all male. and carter appreciated that that's not how the great united states looks, so he was determined to put women and members of minority groups on the federal courts in numbers, not as one-at-a-time curiosities. i think he appointed over 25 women to district court judgeships and 11, 11 women to courts of appeals, and i was, i think, the last of the lucky 11. david: so you served 13 years on the court of appeals, the district of columbia... ruth: yes. david: and after 13 years, did you think you d a chance
to be on the supreme court, or did you think this was something that might not ever happen? ruth: no one thinks, "my aim in life is to be a supreme court justice." it just isn't realistic. there are only 9 of us, and luck has a lot to do with who are the particular 9 at a particular time, so growing up, i never had an idea of being any kind of a judge, with, as i said, women were barely there on the bench. when carter became president, there was only one woman on a federal court of appeals. she was shirley hufstedler on the ninth circuit. he made her the first-ever secretary of education, and then there were none, again. carter changed that, and no president ever went back to the way it was. reagan didn't want to be outdone by carter,
so he was determined to put the first woman on the u.s. supreme court. he made a nationwide search and came up with a spectacular choice in justice sandra day o'connor. david: when president clinton became president, you were obviously somebody being considered, and then president clinton talked to somebody who was pushing for your appointment, daniel patrick moynihan, and president clinton said, "well, women don't want her." now, how could that have been the case when you were the leading lawyer in gender discrimination? why would women have not wanted you--or some women-- not wanted you on the supreme court? ruth: just some women. most women... were overwhelmingly supportive-- overwhelmingly supportive of my nomination. but i had written a comment on "roe v. wade," and it was not 100%
applauding that decision. what i said was, the court has an easy target because the texas law was the most extreme in the nation. abortion could be had only if necessary to save the woman's life. doesn't matter that her health would be ruined, that she was a victim of rape or incest. i thought "roe v. wade" was an easy case, in the supreme court could have held that most extreme law unconstitutional and put down its pen. instead...the court wrote an opinion that made every abortion restriction in the country illegal in one fell swoop... and that was... not the way that the court ordinarily operates.
it waits--it... it waits till the next case and the next case. anyway, it was that... that that some women felt that i should have been 100% in favor of "roe v. wade," and because i wasn't-- david: ok, so president clinton met with you and obviously had a good meeting and he offered you the appointment, and the confirmation went pretty well, would you say? ruth: 96-3? yes, i'd say that was... [laughter and applause] david: ok, so you've, um, now been on the court for 26 years, and therefore, in total, you've been on the federal judiciary for 39 years. so, in 26 years on the supreme court, when you first got on the court, were the other justices saying, "we're happy to see you here," "let's go have dinner together," "let's socialize," or were they just kind of standoffish a bit, and what was your relationship with sandra day o'connor like
when you got onto the court as the second woman on the court? ruth: the court wasn't an unknown territory to me. i mean, i worked at the court of appeals just a few blocks down the road, and every once in a while, judge david bazelon, who was quite senior, would call me and say, "ruth, we're going to kronheim's for lunch." who was kronheim? he was the biggest liquor distributor in the d.c. area, and before we went to his warehouse, we would stop at the supreme court and pick up justice brennan and justice marshall. i knew justice scalia from our court of appeals days together. i knew justice clarence thomas, who was also on the d.c. circuit. but sandra...
was as close as i came to havina big sister, though i did have a big sister, but she died in my infancy, so i never knew her. justice o'connor was... the most welcoming and gave me some very good advice, not only when i was a new justice, but during my first cancer bout because justice o'connor had breast cancer, and she was on the bench 9 days after her cancer surgery. david: wow. ruth: so she was very clear about what i had to do. she said, "ruth, "you have your chemotherapy on friday. "that way, you'll get over it during the weekend. you can be back." david: right. oh. now, the best way to win a case
if you're arguing one before the supreme court is to write a great brief, to write a--to be a great oral advocate? does the oral argument really make a difference or the brief really make a difference, or what's the best way to win a case in the supreme crt for somebody who might want to argue a case? [scattered laughter] ruth: to have a case that's strong on the merits. no, an oral argument at the court is not a debate. i'd say, of the two compones of appellate advocacy, the brief is by far the most important; it's what we start with and what we end up with when we go back to chambers. oral argument is fleeting at the supreme court. it's exactly half-hour aside, so you can't do much more with an oral argument than to make the judges want to rule in your favor, but the brief is what does the heavy lifting. david: now, is there any chance that the court's proceedings will be televised any time in the near future?
ruth: oh, you probably have heard my dear colleague, justice david souter, his remark about that. he said, "there will be television "of our hearings over my dead body." [laughter] and he spoke with some experience because he had been on the new hampshire supreme court for some years. they did televise proceedings. he had the sense that some of the advocates were acting up for the camera, but more than that, what bothered him was that he was censoring his own questions. something that would be understood in a conversation between lawyers and judges might be misunderstood... david: right. ruth: by the public. but for me, and the principal reason to resist television
is it gives altogether the wrong impression of what appellate advocacy is. you televise a trial, everything is going on right in front of your eyes, but an appeal is weighted much more on the writing side. but i always start with reading the opinions that were rendered by the trial court, the court of appeals. i do that before i turn to any of the lawyer's brief. we have... we have what's called a hot bench; that is judges who have read the opinions below, who have read the precedent in point, the lawyers' briefs, the umpteen briefs filed by friends of the court, so it's--
justices don't come on the bench with an empty mind. it's not entirely closed, either, but you're bound to be leaning in one direction or another, having done all that reading, so it's giving a false impression that the appellate argument is like a debate, and the better debater will win. it's just not so. david: now, the court meets from october to june, more or less, what do the justices do in july and august? do they sit around reading briefs or are they-- do other things? [scattered laughter] ruth: one business that follows us all over the world throughout the year is the death penalty business, which the court treats like a firing squad. very often, when an execution date is set, there's an 11th-hour application for a stay.
david: right. ruth: no one justice is responsible for the final vote. we all are pulled, wherever we are in the world. i also try to keep up with the petitions for review, so when we come back-- our opening conference is at the end of september; i don't have a massive bunch of petitions for review to deal with, so i do that over the summer, but in addition, most of us take some time off to teach. many u.s. law schools have summer programs abroad. david: right. ruth: sometimes i participate in an exchange with-- with judges from other systems. this summer, i started out in lisbon with justi stevens and justice sotomayor. it was a conference sponsored by nyu law school.
david: so today, when you are thinking about the court, what is it that gives you the greatest hope for the future about the court and the way it works? i assume you're optimistic about the way the court generally works, and you're reasonably pleased with the way the justices work with each other? ruth: i think that all of usevere the institution for which we work, and we want to leave it in as good shape... david: right. ruth: as we found it. david: and if somebody wants to be a supreme court clerk, each justice gets, i think, 4 clerks. do you just send in a letter applying, or how does that work? [scattered laughter] ruth: we get hundreds and hundreds of applications. my best source for law clerks... are other judges, other federal judges. law professors tend to write glowing letters
of recommendation, everyone is "the best and the brightest student that ever graduated from this law school." david: right. ruth: but my colleagues on other federal courts will tell me the straight story. so, very often, i'll get a call from another federal judge saying, "i have a clerk this year who i think would be just right for you." so those are my best recommenders. in the days when justice kagan was dean of the harvard law school, she picked one of my clerks, and the dean of columbia law school pked one of my clerks, so i had two others from mainly, overwhelmingly from other district judges or court of appeals judges. david: so we have a few questions from people
who are attending today: "if you could change one thing about the constitution, what would it be and why?" so i guess you probably-- if you were a founding father-- a founding mother... [scattered laughter] what might you have put into the constitution that didn't quite get in there? ruth: i would add an equal rights amendment to the constitution. david: ok. all right. [applause] ruth: and i explain it this way. when i take out my pocket constitution to show my granddaughters, i can show them the first amendment that guarantees freedom of speech and of the press, but i can't point to anything that says women and men are persons of equal citizenship stature. every constitution in the world written since the year 1950
has the equivalent of that statement: "men and women are persons equal in stature before the law." so i would like my now great-grandchild to have a constitution... david: ok. ruth: that includes that statement, that this is a fundamental premise of our society, just the way freedom of thought and expression-- david: "what gives you the most hope for the future? ruth: my granddaughters. [audience murmurs and applauds] david: ok. ruth: i am very proud of my eldest granddaughter, who is a lawyer, cares a great deal about our country and about its highest values. she, and other young people like her,
i think, will help us get back on track. [applause] david: all right, and, um, "what do you think is the biggest threat to our democracy?" [laughter] ruth: a public that doesn't care about preserving the rights we have. you know that great speech on liberty by judge learned hand? and he says that the fire-- he said, "if the fire dies in the hearts of people, "there's no constitution and no judge "that can restore it, "so my faith is in the spirit of liberty." david: ok, so, um, someone here wants you to do their homework for them: "i'm missing my columbia journalism ethics discussion
"on how to interview sexual assault survivors "in order to be here tonight. do you have any suggestions as to how journalists can report on sexual assault with care?" [scattered laughter] ruth: well, not being a journalist, i don't know that i'm qualified to answer that question. but it's just you approach... i would think you'd approach that question like any other. you want to be honest, you want to give an accurate account. david: ok. ruth: you know, the me too movement was started by... a woman who told me that she had told her story to the "new york times" about harvey weinstein two years before they published it. david: so, when you go to a restaurant these days,
can you actually have dinner without a selfie request or people coming up for autographs? is it possible for you to do that anymore? [ruth chuckles] ruth: it's amazing. i am 86 1/2 years old, and everyone wants to take a picture with me. [laughter and applause] david: oh, ok. so, "is your trainer available for other people to use?" [laughter] is he available? ruth: my trainer's permanent job is in the clerk's office at the u.s. district court for the district of columbia, and he trains a number of other judges. david: justice ginsburg, i want to thank you very much for a very interesting conversation, and thank you for... [sustained applause] person: whoo! david: thank you for your service to our country over 39 years. [applause]
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