Ruth Bader Ginsburg; "The Notorious R.B.G." speaks to thousands at Notre Dame

Published: Sep. 13, 2016 at 1:28 AM EDT
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The second female Supreme Court Justice visited Notre Dame Monday evening for a public conversation. While the questions were pretty tame, with no questions about either presidential candidate or pressing topics within the Supreme Court, the event gave great insight into who Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is as a person.

"Let's please, give a warm Notre Dame welcome to Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg," Father John I. Jenkins, University of Notre Dame President said before a raucous 7,500 seat crowd.

The public conversation was less conversation and more two-hour biography of the Justice, better known on the internet as the Notorious RBG. That nickname is something the 83 year old Justice is fully aware of.

"It was a now deceased rapper," Ginsburg said to the crowd. "The Notorious B.I.G. When I was told about this I said, well of course. We have something terrific in common. We were both born and bred in Brooklyn, New York."

Clearly with her sense of humor, Ginsburg had the crowd roaring in laughter several times all while touching on some very serious issues. Like her time at Harvard Law when a professor asked what each of the nine women at the school were doing at the law school, occupying a seat that could be held by a man.

"He was a brilliant legal scholar," Ginsburg said. "But he didn't have a sense of humor. He told me he didn't ask that question to wound, offend the women but some of his colleagues still doubted wisdom of admitting women to the law school. 1950-51 was the first year Harvard allowed women. It came around to me, and in those days I smoked. The professor who escorted me was almost a chain smoker. I had the ashtray for the two of us on my lap. When I got up to speak, there go all the cigarette butts all over the Dean's floor. It's one of those moments in life where if you could push a button and fall through a trap door, that's what you would do. But I mumbled something to this effect. Jeepers, well my husband is in his second year of class and I think it's very important for a woman to understand her husband's work."

Even after graduating first in her class at both Harvard and Columbia, Ginsburg had difficulty landing a job because of discriminatory practices because she was a woman.

"Now, I said I had three strikes against me in ascending order of importance," Ginsburg said. "They were just beginning to accept Jews in the large law firms. A woman? Well, maybe a few firms would take a chance on a woman. But no one would take a chance on a mother."

However, one took a chance on her, likely because he had no other choice. Ginsburg says her Dean gave Judge Edmund Louis Palmieri an ultimatum; hire Ginsburg and if she didn't work out, he'd send a male law graduate. If he didn't, he wouldn't suggest any of his law students from Columbia go to Palmieri's firm ever again. She got the job.

It was experiences like these that led Justice Ginsburg to where she is today. She continues to inspire generations of both men and women.

"I'm a young attorney," Jenna Shives of Indianapolis said. "I'm in my third year of practice so it's great to see a trailblazer and someone involved in the legal community who paved the way to allow me to have my career."

"She's always been a force for progress," Matthew Cripp, an IUSB Senior said. "She's always been at the front of the line."

"I think just kind of the quiet work she's done over a lifetime," Carly Squadroni of South Bend said. "Advancing equal rights for everyone and especially taking care to make sure women have had equal opportunities in this country."

Squadroni spoke profoundly of Ginsburg while wearing a Notorious RBG t-shirt. One in which Ginsburg is adorned with a crown. However, Ginsburg knows she's not royalty.

"I'm not a queen," Ginsburg said.

"You mean you're not Queen Ruth?" the moderator, Judge Ann Claire Williams, Notre Dame alumna said to the laughter of the crowd.

Ginsburg took a moment to let the laughter die down from Williams comment.

"I'd rather be notorious."