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Ruth Bader Ginsburg had ties to Long Island, Hofstra University

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is applauded

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is applauded by her Hofstra University hosts after her speech on legal ethics on March 11, 1996, in Hempstead. Credit: Newsday / David L. Pokress

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn but had close ties to Long Island.

Ginsburg grew up in Brooklyn and her family moved to Long Island after she went to college in 1950. She went to Cornell University when she was 17, where she met her husband Martin Ginsburg of Rockville Centre. They were married June 23, 1954, at a small ceremony at his parents’ house.

Martin Ginsburg came from a wealthy Long Island family. His father was a founding member of the Cold Spring Country Club in Huntington, but Martin resigned from the club at Ruth’s urging in the 1960s because the club did not allow women. The club became the first gender-neutral member-owned club on Long Island in 1994.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg graduated from Columbia Law School at the top of her class but was initially denied a job because she was a woman.

Before her nomination to the high court, she became known for arguing several equal rights cases before the Supreme Court.

"She was notorious before she got on the court," said Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz, who came to know Ginsburg from her lectures at Hofstra. "Her legacy was more than one case she decided or argued. She became a symbol of the fact that’s so obvious — it’s all about intelligence and ethics and determination. If you are a woman, those count and nothing else."

Ginsburg came to lecture at Hofstra in 1996 through an unlikely connection — Justice Antonin Scalia.

Although on opposite sides of the political spectrum and interpretation of the Constitution, Scalia and Ginsburg formed a close friendship and respect for each other as jurists.

Rabinowitz invited both justices to speak at the Long Island campus and at Hofstra’s study-abroad program in southern France.

Ginsburg was the keynote speaker at Hofstra’s Conference on Legal Ethics in Hempstead in 1996, where she spoke against teaching religion in public schools and Supreme Court precedents on attorney ethics and privilege. Her lecture was published in the Hofstra Law Review.

"After her visit at Long Island, students were in awe of her," Rabinowitz said. "She meant so much to feminism. She became a symbol that women can do everything a man can do."

She also taught in later years during Hofstra’s summer program in Nice, France, on the French Riviera where the diminutive justice insisted on parasailing, mixed with fancy dinners and lively discussions on the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

"She was a very gracious and charming and low-key person," Rabinowitz said. "She was incredibly lively. I think that’s why she pursued and persisted the way she did."

Every two years Hofstra Law School takes alumni who are to be admitted to argue before the Supreme Court to meet with the justices in Washington. In 2018, Ginsburg took time to speak with each of the 20 Hofstra attorneys, law school Dean Gail Prudenti said.

"She was very frail, but she was big in stature and had a presence and a uniqueness about her and style," Prudenti said.

Ginsburg’s loss leaves an opening on the liberal side of the court that Rabinowitz said he hopes is filled to maintain balance on the court.

"I do think knowing her and respecting what she has done for women’s rights and the country, her dying wish ought to be given great weight and wait for replacement until after the next inauguration," Rabinowitz said.

Ginsburg’s 1996 visit to Hofstra gave prominence to the university’s then relatively young 25-year-old law school.

"I think she gave us a tremendous boost in stature and reputation," Rabinowitz said. "It solidified our reputation as attracting the most important people in the legal world. She along with Justice Scalia took us to another level and told people in legal circles that there’s a pretty good law school on Long Island."

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