Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg visits New York college
Lawyer, judge, Supreme Court justice — Ruth Bader Ginsburg has carried a lot of hefty titles throughout her career. But one title, in particular, came as a surprise.
During an appearance Monday at the State University of New York at Buffalo, the 86-year-old associate justice credited a Tumblr blog created by a New York University student a few years ago for her digital popularity and cult following.
“It was beyond my wildest expectations that I would one day become the ‘Notorious,'” Ginsburg said, her audience erupting in a mix of laughter and applause. “That’s how it all began — the ‘Notorious R.B.G’. and the ‘Notorious B.I.G’. — which is altogether fitting and proper because, after all, we had one important thing in common — we were both born and bred in Brooklyn, New York.”
Ginsburg’s ‘notoriety’ and successful career earned her a special recognition from the State University of New York on Monday — the state’s public college system awarded her an honorary Doctorate in Laws.
In his opening remarks, SUNY Buffalo President Satish K. Tripathi noted that the Supreme Court justice’s visit was a remarkable start to the semester.
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Ginsburg, Tripathi said, is the first Supreme Court justice to receive an honorary degree from a SUNY college. She is also the first to visit SUNY Buffalo’s, also known as “UB,” campus.
“This is truly an incredible way to kick off the school year,” Tripathi said. “I know I speak on behalf of the entire UB community when I say how honored and delighted we are to welcome Justice Ginsburg to campus.”
‘She’s a role model for me’
Hours before Ginsburg’s scheduled appearance at UB, a line of students waiting at the door wrapped around the side of the Center for the Arts building. Students and faculty packed the auditorium for the Supreme Court justice’s appearance, with only standing room remaining before the talk began.
Dressed as Ginsburg — glasses and the iconic white frilly collar making the outfit complete — UB sophomore Amanda Bernas said she sees the Supreme Court justice as a role model.
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“I’m just looking forward to being in her presence. She’s a role model for me,” Bernas said. “Her impact is the main thing that draws people to her, I would say.”
Bernas snagged a ticket about four days ago to Ginsburg’s discussion after being on the school’s wait list for the event. Dressing up as a nod to one of her favorite political icon’s appearance was a no-brainer, she said.
“Being only the second woman to ever be on the court is a huge thing,” Bernas said. “I guess she’s kind of the cultural icon in that way.”
Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993.
In a Q&A with Aviva Abramovsky, dean of UB’s School of Law, Ginsburg discussed her lifelong efforts to shatter glass ceilings and champion women’s rights.
Ginsburg said she felt fueled by “the notion that lawyers could make a difference … (and) from experiencing odious discrimination.”
At 86, Ginsburg has battled various cancers in the last 20 years — most recently undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer. Her health was not discussed during her visit to UB.
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Rather, Abramovsky kept the questions light asking Ginsburg about her passion for social justice and how her adolescence shaped her career. At one point, she asked about any female role models Ginsburg had growing up, and the Supreme Court justice had to take a pause before responding.
“In my growing up years, I can’t say that I had a role model of women in law,” Ginsburg said. “Women were barely there.”
Instead, she said she found inspiration in two particular women. One real, and one fictional: Amelia Earhart and Nancy Drew.
Abramovsky’s final question elicited a thoughtful response from the Supreme justice: What characteristics does she think all successful judges share?
Ginsburg’s response: Patience, and a willingness to listen and to learn.
“Law doesn’t exist somewhere in the sky — it exists to govern the society,” she said. “Law exists to serve that society, so (judges need) an appreciation of what law is all about to help keep society operating peacefully. I think it’s important to realize law is not some kind of abstract in society. It affects real people and judges should be cognizant.”