'Justice, Justice Thou Shalt Pursue' Offers Look At Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Early Work | New Hampshire Public Radio

'Justice, Justice Thou Shalt Pursue' Offers Look At Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Early Work

Mar 16, 2021
Originally published on March 16, 2021 11:26 am

People who saw the funeral of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last year might recall an image: Many of the lawyers who served as her clerks over the years attended the moving of the casket.

One of those clerks standing in front of the Supreme Court building was Amanda Tyler.

"We spread out because of the pandemic. All over the steps and Supreme Court Plaza — on the side that has the portico 'Equal Justice Under Law,' which, so fittingly, she rested under later that day. And when I stepped out and saw the clerks covering the whole front of the Supreme Court, I was overwhelmed with grief and, at the same time, overwhelmed with pride to be a part of this group of lawyers who she had mentored. It was just overwhelming to think about her — having lost her. And it's still overwhelming," Tyler tells NPR.

Tyler clerked with Ginsburg many years ago and worked with her again in the final year of her life. They collaborated on a book that collects some of Ginsburg's writings. It is called Justice, Justice Thou Shalt Pursue. It includes some of Ginsburg's historic opinions, like one that allowed women to attend the all-male Virginia Military Institute. It also includes arguments from earlier years when she appeared as a lawyer before the court.


Interview Highlights

On getting to watch Ruth Bader Ginsburg think

She taught all of us to think about how can the law be a force for good? And also how the law impacts the lived experiences of real people, and that is something that I think is quite important about her jurisprudence and quite distinctive about it. So, for example, if you read the Ledbetter opinion — in the Lilly Ledbetter case — she's dissenting to a court decision that is making it harder for women to sue for pay discrimination. And she walks the reader through what it's like to be a working-class woman in a factory who discovers she's the victim of pay discrimination and how hard it is to discover that and how you might be reluctant to speak out at first. The questions that come before the court, they're not these abstract, legal, theoretical things. They actually really impact the lives of a broad spectrum of American society. And that needs to be a factor in how the court thinks about reaching its decisions.

On her relationship with Justice Antonin Scalia and how they worked together

It wasn't just a friendship. They took each other's views into account and they considered them very seriously. And she told the story at his memorial service of how when she circulated the VMI majority draft opinion, he gave her a preview of his dissent before he circulated it to others so that she could respond to it effectively. And by her telling, one, she says it was a zinger. And two, she says it helped her make her majority opinion stronger. It helped her refine her arguments. And I think that that is a lesson, a very timely lesson, of engagement with those with whom you disagree. I recall when she testified at her Senate confirmation hearing she quoted Judge Learned Hand, who was a huge influence on her, and she said the spirit of liberty is never quite sure that it's right. It's always a little more humble.

On her writings and words from earlier times

What I see is someone who was a master at her game. In the very first argument, Frontiero, no one interrupts her. And I asked her about this and she said, "Well, I thought I was at sea. I couldn't tell whether they were actually listening to me. But what I realized is that they needed to be educated. They needed to understand how gender discrimination cuts in a lot of different directions and how women are not, in fact, the darlings of the law. They are, in fact, being held back by the law."

Ruth Bader Ginsburg never walked into a room unprepared. She was meticulous. It was how she was so great. I look back at the course of her life. And when you look at the start of her career, the obstacles that she faced, she was relentless. She was resilient. She just kept propelling herself forward. And one of the ways that she did so so successfully was by always being the best prepared person in the room. And she was that way right up until the end.

On her view of the future during the last months of her life

I think back to the last conversation that she and I had. And she asked me about my children — and she asked in particular whether they would be going back to school in person. Because she was so concerned — not just about my kids, but all kids in this country and in the world who were being so profoundly affected by the pandemic. And I think that that is really emblematic of how she was as a person. She was always thinking about others and she was always thinking about the future. And when she looked ahead, what I take and what I hope others will take from her example, is that she was always optimistic. She always believed that we could be better, that we could, through hard work, build that more perfect union as the Constitution calls on us to do and that we would get there.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: People who saw last year's funeral of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg may recall an image. Many of the lawyers who served as her clerks over the years attended the moving of the casket. One of those clerks standing in front of the Supreme Court building was Amanda Tyler.

AMANDA TYLER: We spread out because of the pandemic all over the steps and Supreme Court Plaza on the side that has the portico equal justice under law, which, so fittingly, she rested under later that day. And when I stepped out and saw the clerks covering the whole front of the Supreme Court, I was overwhelmed with grief and at the same time overwhelmed with pride to be a part of this group of lawyers who she had mentored. It was just overwhelming to think about her, having lost her, and it's still overwhelming.

INSKEEP: Tyler clerked with Ginsburg many years ago and worked with her again in the final year of her life. Amanda Tyler collaborated with her on a book that collects some of Ginsburg's writings. It is called "Justice, Justice Thou Shalt Pursue." It includes some of Ginsburg's historic opinions, like one that allowed women to attend the all-male Virginia Military Institute. It includes arguments from earlier years when she appeared as a lawyer before the court. They're all collected by a person who got to watch Ruth Bader Ginsburg think.

TYLER: She taught all of us to think about how can the law be a force for good and also how the law impacts the lived experiences of real people. And that is something that I think is quite important about her jurisprudence and quite distinctive about it. So, for example, if you read the Ledbetter opinion in the Lilly Ledbetter case, she's dissenting to a court decision that is making it harder for women to sue for pay discrimination. And she walks the reader through what it's like to be a working-class woman in a factory who discovers she's the victim of discrimination and how hard it is to discover that and how you might be reluctant to speak out at first. The questions that come before the court, they're not these abstract, legal, theoretical things. They actually really impact the lives of a broad spectrum of American society. And that needs to be a factor in how the court thinks about reaching its decisions.

INSKEEP: Our colleague Nina Totenberg, who knew Justice Ginsburg very well, said that she had a particular relationship with Justice Antonin Scalia when they were writing even opposing opinions on the same case. How would they effectively work together even as they were opposed?

TYLER: It wasn't just a friendship. They took each other's views into account, and they considered them very seriously. And she told the story at his memorial service of how when she circulated the VMI majority draft opinion, he gave her a preview of his dissent before he circulated it to others so that she could respond to it effectively. And by her telling, one, she says it was a zinger. And two, she says it helped her make her majority opinion stronger. It helped her refine her arguments. And I think that that is a lesson, a very timely lesson, of engagement with those with whom you disagree. I recall when she testified at her Senate confirmation hearing, she quoted Judge Learned Hand, who was a huge influence on her, and she said the spirit of liberty is never quite sure that it's right. It's always a little more humble.

INSKEEP: I want people to know that this book includes writings from her earlier times and also words spoken from her earlier times as a lawyer arguing before the Supreme Court. What was she like in that setting?

TYLER: What I see is someone who was a master at her game. In the very first argument, Frontiero, no one interrupts her. And I asked her about this and she said, well, I thought I was at sea. I couldn't tell whether they were actually listening to me. But what I realized is that they needed to be educated. They needed to understand how gender discrimination cuts in a lot of different directions and how women are not, in fact, the darlings of the law. They are, in fact, being held back by the law.

INSKEEP: There's a tiny exchange in an oral argument here where the justices are speaking up, and there's a Justice Potter Stewart who questions her multiple times. And there's just one moment that stands out for me here where he says, are you familiar, Mrs. Ginsburg, with the little chart on the top of page 15 on the appendix?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RUTH BADER GINSBURG: At the same time, he maintains...

POTTER STEWART: Are you familiar, Mrs. Ginsburg, with the little chart on the top of page 15 on the appendix?

BADER GINSBURG: Yes, I am.

INSKEEP: Yes, I am. And I thought in that little exchange, there's someone who's confident, who absolutely has mastered her own material and is going back at him throughout several pages of conversation as hard as he's coming at her.

TYLER: Ruth Bader Ginsburg never walked into a room unprepared (laughter). She was meticulous. It was how she was so great. I look back at the course of her life and when you look at the start of her career, the obstacles that she faced, she was relentless. She was resilient. She just kept propelling herself forward. And one of the ways that she did so so successfully was by always being the best prepared person in the room. And she was that way right up until the end.

INSKEEP: When you spoke with her in the last months of her life, which, I mean, it was 2020 - I mean, it was this excruciating year for so many people - what was her view of the future?

TYLER: I think back to the last conversation that she and I had, and she asked me about my children and she asked in particular whether they would be going back to school in person because she was so concerned not just about my kids but all kids in this country and in the world who were being so profoundly affected by the pandemic. And I think that that is really emblematic of how she was as a person. She was always thinking about others and she was always thinking about the future. And when she looked ahead, what I take and what I hope others will take from her example is that she was always optimistic. She always believed that we could be better, that we could, through hard work, build that more perfect union as the Constitution calls on us to do and that we would get there.

INSKEEP: Amanda Tyler wrote with Ruth Bader Ginsburg "Justice, Justice, Thou Shalt Pursue." Thank you so much.

TYLER: Thank you so much for covering this.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRIOSENCE'S "ONLY ONE EVENING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.