Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Malvina Harlan
Justice Revives Memoir of Former Supreme Court Wife
Listen to Part One and Part Two of Totenberg's report.
Hear Ginsburg discuss the roles of Supreme Court spouses.
Hear Ginsburg discuss pioneers in women's rights.
Read highlights of Ginsburg's life.
Watch an excerpt of the story produced by NOW's Kathleen Hughes, reported with Nina Totenberg, from NOW with Bill Moyers, airing Friday at 9 p.m. ET on PBS. (Check local listings.)
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Photo: NOW with Bill Moyers
John and Malvina Harlan's wedding photo.
Photo: Supreme Court Historical Society
of a Long Life,
Highlights of Ginsburg's Life:
Born March 15, 1933, to Nathan Bader and Celia Amster Bader in Brooklyn, N.Y.
In 1954, she receives a Bachelor of Arts degree in government from Cornell University, where she graduates first among women in her class. The same year, she marries Martin Ginsburg. (They have two children, Jane and James.)
In 1956, Ruth Bader Ginsburg enrolls in Harvard Law School, a year behind her husband. One of nine women in the class of 1959, Ginsburg excelled in her classes and won a spot on the law review. During her second year at Harvard, Martin Ginsburg was diagnosed with cancer. As he recovered from surgery and treatments, Ruth Ginsburg copied classmates' notes for him and typed his papers.
In 1958, Ginsburg transfers to Columbia University Law School after her husband lands a job with a New York City law firm. She served on the Columbia Law Review and tied for first place in the class of 1959.
In 1963, Ginsburg becomes the second woman to join the faculty of Rutgers University Law School.
In the 1960s, Ginsburg assists the New Jersey affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union in litigating sex discrimination cases, including ones involving school teachers whose jobs were threatened when they became pregnant.
In 1971, Ginsburg helps write the ACLU's brief in the key Reed v. Reed sex discrimination case before the Supreme Court. The court struck down a state law that gave precedence to men over women in naming administrators of estates.
In 1972, the American Civil Liberties Union selects Ginsburg to head its Women's Rights Project.
Also in 1972, Ginsburg becomes the first tenured female professor at Columbia University Law School.
Between 1972-78, Ginsburg wins five out of six cases involving sexual inequality that she argues before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter names Ginsburg to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
On Aug. 10, 1993, Ginsburg becomes the second female justice on the Supreme Court. President Bill Clinton nominated her to replace retiring Justice Byron White.
Sources: Supreme Court Historical Society; Current Biography
May 2, 2002 -- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was doing research for a lecture on Supreme Court wives when she stumbled upon an unpublished manuscript at the Library of Congress.
Ginsburg was so impressed with the document -- the memoirs of Malvina Shanklin Harlan, the wife of former Justice John Marshall Harlan -- that she knew she had to make the book widely available to the public. The manuscript told of the Harlans' lives and times during the Civil War and its aftermath. Ginsburg convinced Random House to publish it; Harlan's Some Memories of a Long Life, 1854-1911 will be out later this month.
In a Morning Edition interview airing today and Friday, Ginsburg discusses the 200-page book -- and her life on the Supreme Court -- with NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg.
In the book's foreword, Ginsburg writes that she was drawn to Malvina Harlan's memoirs "as a chronicle of the times, as seen by a brave woman of the era." It is fitting that Ginsburg -- the second woman to serve on the high court -- would make such a connection because of her own role in fighting for women's rights. Ginsburg rose through her law career at a time when laws treated women as "delicate creatures" to be protected from certain jobs that were seen as better performed by men. Of course, those "protections" were really barriers to career choice, Ginsburg says.
In 1971, she helped write the American Civil Liberties Union's brief in the key Reed v. Reed gender discrimination case before the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court struck down a state law that gave precedence to men over women in naming administrators of estates.
In the interview, Ginsburg notes that Malvina Harlan played a significant role in one of her husband's most famous opinions. In 1875, Congress passed a Reconstruction-era law civil rights law banning racial discrimination in public places such as restaurants and trains. The Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional. Justice Harlan was the sole dissenter and he struggled in writing the opinion.
Justice Harlan, a collector of court memorabilia, had found an inkwell used by Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney to write the infamous Dred Scott Decision -- the 1857 ruling that precipitated the Civil War, and confirmed the right to hold slaves. Justice Harlan was about to give the inkwell away as a gift. But Malvina Harlan, sensing its symbolic importance, hid it among her things.
Ginsburg recounts the story: "So one Sunday morning when he was at church services, she took out the inkwell from its hiding place, she gave it a good polishing and she put it on his writing table and took all the other inkwells off it. Her husband, when he saw that inkwell and recalled the part that it had played in retaining the shackles of slavery, she said that that made his thoughts just fly and he wrote and he wrote, and he soon finished his dissenting opinion."
Ginsburg speaks about the key role of dissenting opinions at the Supreme Court. "Dissents speak to a future age. It's not simply to say, 'My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.' But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that's the dissenter's hope: that they are writing not for today but for tomorrow."
Ginsburg touches on both professional and personal topics in the interview:
On the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision on Dec. 12, 2000, that gave George W. Bush the presidency over Al Gore, and in which she dissented: "Whatever the tensions were that day... , we knew that we had to come together for the January sitting that was fast approaching and that all of us really do prize this institution more than our own egos. We had to go on and do the work of the court and we did. And if you were going to bear grudges, that would not be possible. It's almost like a trust that we are bound to preserve the institution and give it to our successors in the same good condition that we received it."
On capital punishment: Death penalty cases "take a terrible toll, and I expect they always will... The first time I was part of this process, it was a bloody murder, it was just a horrendous crime. But I stayed up past the hour that the execution occurred and I cried and then I was over it and there was the next day. I don't cry any more; but I still, every time I'm part of that process, I am unsettled."
On what her mother, who died the day before Ginsburg graduated from high school, would think of her success: "My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent. She never envisioned a legal career for me, but she did think it was very important that I be able to support myself, and I think she would be pleased to see what has become of me."
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Read more about Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the Supreme Court Historical Society
Read an excerpt of Malvina Shanklin Harlan's Some Memories of a Long Life, 1854-1911 in the Journal of Supreme Court History.
Read another excerpt from Some Memories of a Long Life at the Random House Web site.
Read about Linda Przybyszewski, who collaborated with Ginsburg on the book.
Read about Belva Lockwood, the first woman admitted to the Supreme Court bar.
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