Ginsburg: If you’re referring to my mother-in-law’s advice on my wedding day.
Ginsburg: I was married in my husband’s home, and just before the ceremony, my mother-in-law took me aside and said, “I’d like to tell you the secret of a happy marriage.” I'll be glad to know what it is. She said, “Dear, in every good marriage, it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.”
And that is advice I have applied not only in 56 years of marriage, but to this day, in my current workplace. And if an unkind word is said, you just tune out.
Rosen: It’s a profound lesson about never reacting in anger, in always maintaining your equanimity, and if others lose their temper, not losing yours.
Ginsburg: Well, emotions like anger, remorse, and jealousy are not productive. They will not accomplish anything, so you must keep them under control. In the days when I was a flaming feminist litigator, I never said to judges who asked improper questions, “You sexist pig.”
I’ll tell you one such incident. So I was arguing a case in Trenton, New Jersey, before a three-judge federal district court and one said, “Well, women are doing fine these days, opportunities are equal for them everywhere.” And I said, “Your honor, flight training isn’t available to women.” “Oh,” he said, “even in the military they have equal opportunity,” and I answered him with flight training is not available. His response to me was, “Oh, don’t tell me that, women have been in the air forever, I know from experience with my own wife and daughter.” So what is my comeback? “I’ve met some men who don’t have their feet planted firmly on the ground.” You don’t see that anymore, but in the 70s when judges knew it was improper to make racist jokes, women were still fair game.
Rosen: It must have been extraordinary the things you saw and heard back then, and yet you have always kept your cool.
Ginsburg: Yes, because I wanted to win my case. My old chief, who I came to love, Chief Justice Chief Rehnquist, especially after he wrote the decision upholding the Family Medical Leave Act, but my very last argument in the Supreme Court was in the fall of 1978, it was a case about putting women on juries. Young people today are astonished when they are told it was not all that long ago when women were either not put on the jury roll—they could opt in if they wanted to, but they were not called otherwise—or they were on the roll but a woman, any woman, was exempt.
So I divided that argument with the public defender from Kansas City, Missouri. I had 15 minutes, and I was about to sit down, confident that I had gotten out everything I wanted to convey. And, then Justice Rehnquist commented, “So, Mrs. Ginsburg, you won’t settle for Susan B. Anthony’s face on the new dollar.” Then Burger said something, Chief Justice Burger, said something polite, and that was that. In the cab going back to Union Station, I thought, “Ugh, why wasn’t I quick enough to think of some perfect answer, which would have been no, your honor, tokens won’t do.”