Remembering Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, A Longtime Friend of Washington College of Law

Sept. 21, 2020

In the wake of the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the American University Washington College of Law community is reflecting on her distinguished life’s work and enormous impact.

After delivering the keynote address at the February 2016 ribbon-cutting celebration for the new Washington College of Law, Justice Ginsburg took a tour of the law school and paused for a photo with students in the new Weinstein Courtroom

“We have lost a national treasure with the untimely death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” said Acting Dean Robert Dinerstein. “Small in stature but large in intellect and compassion, Justice Ginsburg was a trail-blazer for women’s rights and the rights of under-represented and marginalized persons. Her incisive mind cut through the shibboleths of those who would restrict rights, calling out discrimination for what it was.  Justice Ginsburg was a special friend to the Washington College of Law, speaking at the law school on numerous occasions, including at our centennial in 1996 and the dedication of our Tenley campus in 2016. Activist, teacher, scholar, and jurist, Justice Ginsburg leaves an indelible mark on American jurisprudence and society at large.  She will be sorely missed.”

Justice Ginsburg was a longtime friend to Washington College of Law, giving keynote addresses at some of the law school’s most historic occasions and inviting entire law school classes to visit her in her chambers.

On February 12, 2016, Justice Ginsburg gave the keynote address at the ribbon-cutting celebration for the new Washington College of Law campus. During her speech in front of a crowd of more than 500, Justice Ginsburg paid tribute to AUWCL’s trailblazing founders and its ongoing commitments.

“Mussey and Gillett, in succession, were the first women in the U.S.A. to serve as law school deans. When the Bar Association of the District of Columbia persisted in excluding women, this law school’s first deans didn’t waste time on anger or self-pity. They became charter members of the Women’s Bar Association of D.C.,” she said.

Justice Ginsburg reminded AUWCL’s alumni and students that they are part of this distinguished history. “Graduates of American University Washington College of Law should take just pride in the school’s origin. And, even more, in what the college has become,” she stated. “May that shared adventure of legal education, launched by Mussey and Gillett, continue here for decades to come. And may that adventure flourish in the grand facilities we dedicate this afternoon.”

In September 2012, Justice Ginsburg co-hosted the AUWCL John Sherman Myers Society 28th Annual Dinner, held that year at the U.S. Supreme Court.

And, less than a year ago, on September 27, 2019, Justice Ginsburg spoke before more than 200 guests at the law school at a dinner honoring the career of Professor Herman Schwartz.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg gives the keynote address at American University Washington College of Law’s 28th Annual John Sherman Myers Society Dinner, held in September 2012 at the U.S. Supreme Court.
On February 12, 2016, Justice Ginsburg gave the keynote address at the ribbon-cutting celebration for the new Washington College of Law campus before a crowd of more than 500 alumni, faculty, staff, students, AU and community leaders, and friends of the law school.
Professor Steve Wermiel and his U.S. Supreme Court seminar class visiting Justice Ginsburg at the Court in 2016.
Justice Ginsburg joins American University Washington College of Law for its centennial Founders' Celebration in spring 1996.
After delivering the keynote address at the February 2016 ribbon-cutting celebration for the new Washington College of Law, Justice Ginsburg took a tour of the law school and paused for a photo with students in the new Weinstein Courtroom.
Following the February 2016 ribbon-cutting ceremony, Justice Ginsburg viewed an extensive display of the complete history of the Washington College of Law, which became the first law school founded by women in 1896.
Justice Ginsburg with Dean Claudio Grossman at the 28th Annual John Sherman Myers Society Dinner, held in September 2012 at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Justice Ginsburg with AUWCL Professor Ann Shalleck (left of the Justice) at an event celebrating the 40th anniversary of Reed v. Reed. The program was co-sponsored by the AUWCL Women and the Law Program and held at the National Press Club on November 17, 2011.
Justice Ginsburg applauds the legacy of Professor Emeritus Herman Schwartz at a dinner held at the law school September 27, 2019.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, A Longtime Friend of Washington College of Law

AUWCL Faculty Pay Tribute to Justice Ginsburg

“Justice Ginsburg played a truly transformative, historic role as a lawyer battling to bring the rights of women under the umbrella of the Constitution. Then as a Supreme Court Justice she brought the same passion for fairness, equality, and rights to her decisions for 27 years.

She was a friend to the Washington College of Law which she visited numerous times. She was a friend to me personally, encouraging, assisting with, and then celebrating my co-authored biography of Justice William Brennan. And her strength to keep working and serving her country was profoundly inspiring to so many.

She will be replaced, but her legacy will continue to be felt in the struggle for equal justice in this country and the world.”

--Steve Wermiel
Professor of Practice of Law and U.S Supreme Court Expert

“We often talk about Justice Ginsburg’s work as a jurist and litigator.  But she was first a law professor, a teacher who listened to her students.  She drew upon their lived experiences--and her own--of discrimination and then used that knowledge to change the world.  Her pioneering gender and law courses paved the way for an explosion of feminist legal theory that forever altered how all of us think and teach about law.  Wrenching the Equal Protection door open created space for feminist students, scholars, and lawyers to identify barriers embedded in every corner of the legal system.  To think that it all started in a small women’s legal studies seminar both humbles and inspires me.”

 --Daniela Kraiem
Director, Women and the Law Program

“When Justice Ginsburg accepted our invitation to speak at the ribbon cutting for WCL’s new building, she knew well the history and identity of the law school.  She had visited us several times before.  Among those visits, she had spoken at an event sponsored by the Women and the Law Program and the National Women’s Law Center commemorating Reed v. Reed (1971), the first gender discrimination case in which the Supreme Court invalidated a state law relying on the Equal Protection Clause.  One of the co-authors of the Reed brief, Justice Ginsburg found that the work of the Women and the Law Program resonated with her own history.  She began her career as a law teacher at Rutgers (1963 to 1972), not only starting, at the request of her students, a women’s legal studies seminar, but also forging her way as an early clinical teacher, bringing her students into representation of clients in litigation to advance women’s rights, advocacy that arose from her teaching.  She also served on the first advisory board of the Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the first gender journal in the country.   In coming to the ribbon cutting, Justice Ginsburg requested specifically to view the exhibit created by the Women and the Law Program documenting the legacy of WCL’s foremothers throughout the history of the school.  Students had the opportunity to accompany Justice Ginsburg as she viewed the pictures of the first women’s law class – not so distant from her own small seminar.  They saw her excitement as she recognized our graduates who had gone on to be women’s rights advocates and judges.  They felt her warmth and support in validating the sustaining mission of the law school to create a law school inclusive of all, a law school committed to advocacy for women’s rights.”

--Ann Shalleck
Professor of Law and Carrington Shields Scholar

“Grit: RBG had more than the rest of us put together. She suited up and fought when the world told her a woman didn't deserve a seat at the table and did so despite loss, terrible pain, and more than a few setbacks. Whether staring down nine robed, skeptical men from a podium or fighting a grim prognosis, she courageously and unflinchingly stood firm against the onslaught. Her razor-sharp intellect was obvious, but when I think of RBG, it is the image of this tiny person girded for battle and unwilling to give up, and yet winning, that looms largest.”

--Elizabeth Beske
Assistant Professor of Law

"Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg inspired generations by illuminating the outsized importance of the Supreme Court in making real the promise of equality for all. Her trailblazing journey as an architect of women’s rights and a civil rights litigator shaped her life’s work as a jurist. Each and every individual continues to benefit from the fruits of her labor. Let us honor her memory by actively working to protect our democracy and the human rights of all who dwell here."

--Lia Epperson
Professor of Law

“A sad day. While we knew that Justice Ginsburg was ill and in a very frail condition, still we are shocked by the passing of a giant like her: a symbol of commitment, struggle, and hope for women and men all over the world. Her impact in law and society, including the struggle for gender equality, the rejection of discrimination, and the search for justice, are impressive.

We are grateful for her inspiring participation in important events in the life of our school- from talking to classes, being a commencement speaker, participating in numerous conferences and events, including joining us in opening our new law school campus. Her career and life will continue to be a role model for lawyers and judges in this country and all over the world who want to contribute to justice.”

--Claudio Grossman
Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus

"Brilliant, strategic, and patient. As a lawyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg strategically litigated governmental unequal treatment of men and women based on stereotypes in order to create the intermediate standard of review for gender discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. I love to share the following story with my students as inspiration, showing how strategic thinking and patience can create more just laws. In 1968, Mr. Moritz sued the IRS for barring him, because he was male, from using the caregiver tax deduction. Mr. Moritz claimed that the agency’s act was unconstitutional. Ruth Bader Ginsburg represented Mr. Moritz on appeal to the Tenth Circuit and won. The federal government petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that if Mr. Moritz were to prevail, there would be hundreds of other federal statutes that would have to be stricken as unconstitutional as well. The government attached the list of statutes as an addendum to their brief. For the next decade or so, then lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg relied on that list to develop her strategic litigation plan and sought to overturn each of those statutes, thereby establishing the rule that governmental discrimination on the basis of sex is unconstitutional unless it passes heightened scrutiny."

--Margaret E. Johnson
Visiting Professor of Law

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a remarkable woman. As everyone knows, Justice Ginsburg made the lives of women better. I had the honor to know her slightly. When she was Professor Ginsburg, she reviewed my first article, written in 1983, “Applying Restitution to Remedy a Discriminatory Denial of Partnership.” WCL was considering me for tenure. Then- Professor Ginsburg said the article illustrated why she always told her students they should study a variety of subjects, not just focus on discrimination law. Many areas of the law can support antidiscrimination.” Read full tribute.

-- Candace Kovacic-Fleischer
Professor of Law Emerita

“Justice Ginsburg’s power as a role model is surpassed only by her legacy as a lawyer and jurist. Her majority opinion in Olmstead demonstrates the law’s respect for individual self-determination. Her dissent in Shelby County speaks to the constitution’s binding power to make a more perfect union. She influenced a generation of lawyers to believe in the power of the law as a force for good. No one who questions whether we have a role in bending the arc of history towards justice will doubt that after studying her life and work. A friend of American University Washington College of Law, she will be dearly missed. Our deepest condolences to her colleagues, friends, and law clerks — and especially to her family.”

--Fernando R. Laguarda
Faculty Director, Program on Law and Government

“The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg encompassed the true meaning of “exceptional,” a word we use too often and rarely accurately. She was one of a kind in many ways, and she chose to use her talents to make this world a much better place for those most left out. She made history not once or twice, but many times. She mastered persuasion not as a sophist, but as a believer in human dignity. She showed us the true meaning of reasoning using the force of the better argument. She was a warrior and a brilliant lawyer and judge, while never losing sight of being a wonderful human being. She made this country a better place for our daughters and for that, I am eternally thankful. Many people, myself included, have cried since Saturday as if we had lost a family member. I think we cry not only because the world lost an exceptional woman, but because with RBG, part of our moral compass is gone too.”

--Macarena Saez
Director, Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law

“My reflections on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg are more personal. While I knew and admired her as a brilliant jurist, feminist, scholar, theorist and woman, I knew her through the lens of working for  one of her friends and  contemporaries, Judge Gladys Kessler. Gladys followed Ruth from Cornell to Harvard five years later. I eavesdropped on the many things they did together over the years -- founding or supporting organizations like the National Women’s Law Center, the Women’s Legal Defense Fund, the National Association of Women Judges and the International Association of Women Judges.  I knew of the discussions of fashion, theater, opera and Bryant the personal trainer who Gladys introduced to Justice Ginsburg.  What struck  me most about Justice Ginsburg is how she fought with vigor and brilliance  and lived with passion and humor.  That is such a lesson for anyone who is involved in an important  and insurmountable struggle like the struggles for gender, racial and economic equality. While I have cried at some point every day since she died,  I am inspired by her passion, her intellect, her courage and her will.  Rest in power RBG.”

--Brenda Smith
Professor of Law
Co-Director, Community and Economic Development Law Clinic
Director, Project on Addressing Prison Rape

“America is a more equal place because RBG insisted that words matter, that human dignity and political power matter. The promise of equality was her life’s work. From her pioneering litigation strategies as the head of the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU to her quietly determined efforts to enforce the Constitution’s 14th Amendment as a justice on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg had the audacity to improve upon Thomas Jefferson’s famous words: “All men are created equal.” She understood that the phrase comprised a living commitment rather than a description of reality. Diminutive in size, she possessed a towering intellect and a tremendous heart — two things essential to understanding the needs of the perennially downtrodden.” Read full statement on Politico.

--Robert Tsai
Professor of Law