In Appreciation of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020)
One of the most moving tributes to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last Friday at age 87, was the silent respect given to her by more than 100 of her former law clerks who had worked across the decades of her tenure as a Supreme Court Justice.
On Wednesday, Justice Ginsburg’s casket was brought to the Great Hall of the Supreme Court to lie in repose before it was moved to the U.S. Capitol, where it lies in state today. In a scene of touching respect and appreciation, her former clerks met those bearing the casket as it arrived at the Supreme Court, solemnly lining the front steps as the flag-draped casket of the much-loved Justice was brought up the broad steps into the Supreme Court for the last time.
Ginsburg was the 107th Justice of the United States Supreme Court, the second woman to serve on the court. She was nominated as an associate justice by President Bill Clinton in August 1993, and she served until her death. She was an outspoken advocate for gender equality and women’s rights and was known as a powerful and articulate voice for equality and justice.
In conversations with reporters and the media about their unique tribute to Justice Ginsburg, the former law clerks who gathered on Wednesday to honor her in this extraordinary way were effusive in their tributes and praise. They spoke of her kindness and civility—including towards those with whom she disagreed on legal issues or who may be seen as political opponents. They spoke of her determined spirit and keen insights into the legal process.
And they spoke of Justice Ginsburg as a mentor and as an exemplary person, as someone who lived out the values she spoke of so eloquently and sought to defend. Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who served on the high court with her, said in the tribute published by the Supreme Court that she was “a great Justice; a woman of valour; a rock of righteousness.” I love that phrase—“a rock of righteousness.” Rocks are solid. Rocks are foundational. Rocks stand firm.
Justice Ginsburg once wrote, “We should learn…to do our best for the sake of our communities and for the sake of those for whom we pave the way.” With excellence and distinction, she demonstrated what it means to “do our best for the sake of communities.” Standing silently on the steps of the Supreme Court in stirring tribute, her former law clerks asserted that she had paved the way for each of them—and for all of us. She has truly been a rock of righteousness and has earned our respect and gratitude. May she rest in peace.