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Technology Council Hosts Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Justice speaks about women on the Supreme Court, her relationship with Justice Antonin Scalia and more.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson speak to members of the Northern Virginia Technology Council Tuesday, Dec. 17 at the Hyatt Regency Reston. (Photo by Alex McVeigh)
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson speak to members of the Northern Virginia Technology Council Tuesday, Dec. 17 at the Hyatt Regency Reston. (Photo by Alex McVeigh)
The Northern Virginia Technology Council welcomed Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Hyatt Regency Reston Tuesday, Dec. 17. Ginsburg, who was the second woman to be appointed to the highest court in the land, was interviewed onstage by former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson. 

Ginsburg, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., served as the general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, and on their board of directors, where she argues in front of the Supreme Court on many cases involving gender discrimination. 

She was appointed as a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1980 before being appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in1993. 

"When Sandra Day O'Connor was asked what it was like to have a second woman justice, she said 'You think I'm glad that Ruth Bader Ginsburg has come on board, you cannot imagine the joy that [my husband] John O'Connor is feeling to no longer be the lone male spouse," she said, getting a big laugh from the crowd of several hundred. 

Ginsburg recalled the moment she knew that women Supreme Court Justices were going to be a permanent fixture. 

"The moment I knew women were there to stay was when I was appointed, they did a renovation on our robing rooms. Up until then there was a bathroom labeled 'men.' When Sandra was there and had to change, she was forced to go back to her chambers," she said. "They installed a women's bathroom, equal in size, so things were changing."

She said in her early days, people would hear a woman's voice in court, and assume she was O'Connor, because she was the only woman they knew. 

"Now, with three of us, no was calls me Justice [Sonia] Sotomayor, no one calls her Justice [Elena] Kagan Justice Ginsburg," she said. "It's an exhilarating change."

One topic of discussion was Ginsburg's relationship with Justice Antonin Scalia, whose opinion she is almost always opposed to. She recalled first seeing him speak at the University of Chicago. 

"I disagreed with almost everything he said, but he said it in such an oddly captivating way," she said. "His style is attention grabbing, and I'd say mine is restrained in comparison."

Despite their differences, Ginsburg said the two have bonded over their mutual love of opera. That makes was only fitting that composer Derrick Wang has decided to write an opera about the two of them, called "Scalia/Ginsburg."

Ginsburg read a few lines from her aria, as well as from Scalia's opening aria, which is entitled "Rage Aria."

She also had a few choice pieces of advice for lawyers who one day will be addressing the Supreme Court, learned from her own experiences on both sides.

"Sometimes a question is asked, not so much to elicit a response from a lawyer, but from a colleague. Sometimes a justice tries to assist a lawyer on the ropes by asking a helpful question, and many people miss that cue because they're too focused," she said. "A well-prepared opening sentence is a good idea, if you can get that out. After that, ride the wave, go where the court is taking you, don't try desperately to get back to your script. [As an advocate,] I always had about four or five points that are essential for me to say, and the rest I can skip."


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