Editor’s note: We’re republishing this story at the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We believe her thoughts on what needs to be done to keep this country on course are especially relevant. We’re encouraging all to vote for all the obvious reasons, but also as a tribute to her.
Recently, everyone’s favorite Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, chatted with David Rubinstein, Co-CEO of the Carlyle Group and a philanthropist, at NYC’s 92nd Street Y. In a wide-ranging talk, they discussed matters both silly and serious. Allow us to share some highlights.
When asked about her health, she said, “As long as I’m healthy and mentally agile, I plan to stay on the job,” and added, “When I had pancreatic cancer in 2009, there was a senator whose name I don’t recall who said I’d be dead in six months. He’s no longer alive.”
When asked how long she’d like to stay in her current job, the justice, who is now 86, said that Justice John Paul Stevens, who served until age 90 and died this year at age 99, set the record she’d like to equal or beat. “He wrote four books after leaving the Court—yes, he’s my role model,” she said.
The conversation recapped her personal and professional life (she’s even been profiled in a film), with her interviewer querying how her 56-year-long marriage got its start. (Her husband Martin Ginsburg died in 2010.) “I met my husband when I was 17 and he was 18 at Cornell [University] in the 1950s. Cornell had four men to every woman—it was the place women wanted to send their daughters. If you couldn’t find a man there, you were hopeless. Marty was the first boy I ever met who cared that I had a brain.”
As the conversation turned to reminiscing about her late mother-in-law, RBG recounted the best advice she’d received from her husband’s mother. “Just before the [wedding] ceremony, Marty’s mom told me,” she recalled, “the secret of a happy marriage is that every now and then, it helps to be a little deaf. … I have followed this assiduously in marriage and with my colleagues. If an unkind word is said, I just tune out.”
What the Constitution Needs
The Justice’s comments were peppered with her pro-female stance—loud and proud. When asked what she’d add to the Constitution if she could, Justice Bader Ginsburg replied, “I would add an equal rights amendment. When I take out my pocket constitution, I can show people that it guarantees freedom of speech and the press, but nothing that says women and men are of equal stature before the law. Every constitution since 1950 has that. I would like my great grandchildren to have that statement as a fundamental premise of our society, just like freedom of thought and expression.” (For more on the ERA, read this NextTribe article.)
As the session closed, she was asked what gave her the most hope for the future. “My granddaughters—I’m very proud of my eldest who is a granddaughter who is a lawyer and cares a great deal about our country and about its highest values. She and other young people like her will help us get back on track,” she replied.
A question came from the audience: “What is the biggest threat to our democracy?” A gasp and chuckle rippled through those assembled, assuming the response would indict the current administration. But Judge Bader Ginsburg gave a non-partisan answer. She thoughtfully opined, “A public that doesn’t care about preserving the rights we have. In the famous speech on liberty by Judge Learned Hand, he said, ‘If the fire dies in the hearts of people, there’s no Constitution or judge that can restore it.’ My faith is in the spirit of liberty.”
Could she be any more inspiring? It’s enough to make you want to buy a doll of her this very moment and keep close as a symbol of her drive, wisdom and grace.
A version of this article was originally published in October 2019.