Just days ago, on Thursday evening, the National Constitution Center awarded the 2020 Liberty Medal to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. At the justice’s request, we recorded her favorite opera singers and special friends offering personal tributes in words and music. The tribute video is a moving, inspiring, and now heartbreaking celebration of her achievements as one of the most influential figures for constitutional change in American history.
In her acceptance statement, Justice Ginsburg said the following:
It was my great good fortune to have the opportunity to participate in the long effort to place equal citizenship stature for women on the basic human-rights agenda. In that regard I was scarcely an innovator. For generations, brave women and enlightened men in diverse nations pursued that goal, but they did so when society was not yet prepared to listen. I was alive and a lawyer in the late 1960s, and the decade commencing in 1970. Conditions of life had so changed that audiences responded positively to pleas that society—men, women, and children—would be well served by removing artificial barriers blocking women’s engagement in many fields of human endeavor, from bar membership to bartending, policing, firefighting, piloting planes, even serving on juries. Helping to explain what was wrong about the “closed-door era” was enormously satisfying.
I first met Justice Ginsburg nearly 30 years ago, when I was a young law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit, working for another judge. She and I met in an elevator, bonded over opera, and developed a friendship that was one of the greatest honors of my life. With the justice’s permission, a selection of our conversations over the years was published as a book, Conversations With RBG, last November. But perhaps the most personal conversation we ever shared has not yet been published, although the justice copyedited and approved it for publication in preparation for the forthcoming paperback edition.