Two events helped shape U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's outlook: the Red Scare, in which suspected Communist sympathizers saw their lives ruined, and World War II, Ginsburg recalled Saturday.
“It was a war unlike recent wars where there was a right side and a wrong side. There was nothing ambiguous about it," Ginsburg, speaking on Manhattan's Upper West Side, said.
As for the Red Scare, she said, “There were lawyers standing up for these people and reminding our government that we have a First Amendment that guarantees us the right to think, speak and write as we please."
From this experience, she said, "I got the idea that being a lawyer was a pretty nifty thing."
Ginsburg spoke Saturday before a crowd of about 500 people who paid from $90 to $110 for tickets, which sold out in eight minutes, according to Mary Flanagan, a spokeswoman for one of the event sponsors, the Museum of the City of New York.
The event was held across from the museum, at the New York Academy of Medicine on Fifth Avenue.
Ginsburg was interviewed Saturday by National Public Radio’s Nina Totenberg, one day after the justice made her first public remarks since fracturing three ribs in November. In those remarks, on Friday in Washington, D.C., Ginsburg praised immigrants as the “vanguard” to cleanse the United States of the “stains” of American societal discrimination, according to ABC News.
On Saturday, she recalled the indignities she faced at the beginning of her career 60 years ago, when women made up less than 3 percent of the law profession: rejections to judicial clerkships and jobs even though she graduated at the top of her class; pay cuts that went to women but not male counterparts; and a condescending Columbia University administrator who, when she came to complain about sex discrimination against campus maids, offered her tea.
Ginsburg was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. She is the second woman to become a U.S. Supreme Court justice. (The first, Sandra Day O’Connor, served from 1981 and retired in 2006. Ginsburg is now joined by two other women: associate justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.)
She has become a darling of the left, with a nickname (Notorious RBG, a hat tip to the rapper Notorious B.I.G., a fellow native Brooklynite), an unofficial clothing line, and a Hollywood biopic (“On the Basis of Sex,” a reference to her early work as a lawyer fighting discrimination against women).
During the 2016 presidential election, Ginsburg apologized for what she termed “ill-advised” comments to the press criticizing then-candidate Donald Trump, including calling him a “faker,” and that his election would be “time for us to move to New Zealand.” It is almost unheard of for a sitting justice to criticize a presidential candidate, and she promised to be more “circumspect.”
On Saturday, Ginsburg recalled commiserating with O’Connor over their early job rejections at law firms.
“Because that opportunity wasn't open to us,” Ginsburg said, “look where we ended up.”