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Remembering when Ruth Bader Ginsburg visited Northwestern Law

Legendary Supreme Court justice spent two days on campus in 2009; talked life, law and her hope for students

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg visited Northwestern Law in 2009. Photo by Stephen Anzaldi

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a pioneer on the court and for gender equality, died Sept. 18, 2020, at the age of 87. In 2009, Ginsburg visited Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. 

“I and everyone who met with her encountered her sharp intellect, commitment to justice and passion for the work of the Court,” recalls James Speta, interim dean of Northwestern Law. “Her dedicated public service, and her pioneering litigation for civil rights, have made an important mark on the law and our profession.”

Below is an article originally published Sept. 16, 2009, after her visit here.

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg answered a broad range of questions during a discussion with two Northwestern University School of Law professors, often delighting the audience of 700-plus in the school's auditorium.

Related: Listen to audio of her address to Northwestern Law.

Ginsburg visited the law school Sept. 14 and 15, 2009, as the Howard J. Trienens Visiting Judicial Scholar, spending two days providing students and faculty with perspectives on the judicial process and contemporary legal issues.

Among her answers during the discussion, she talked about the continuing importance of the Equal Protection Clause (enacted in 1868), a recent conversation with Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor about judicial fashion (met with loud laughter), the effect of the decision-making process on the court's ultimate opinions and the controversy over citing opinions of international courts in Supreme Court decisions.

Ginsburg became a lawyer, she said, during the McCarthy era to make life better for other people. She hoped that Northwestern Law students would use their skills for the same purpose.

Ginsburg participated in the discussion with faculty members Steven Calabresi, the co-founder of the Federalist Society and the George C. Dix Professor of Law, and Professor Robert Burns, a specialist in advocacy, professionalism and criminal procedure.

She was nominated by President Bill Clinton as associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in June 1993 and took the oath of office Aug. 10, 1993.

In 1971, then-Professor Ginsburg of Rutgers University was instrumental in launching the Women's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. Throughout the 1970s she litigated a series of cases solidifying a constitutional principle against gender-based discrimination.

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