Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, 74 – and the only remaining female judge serving on the highest U.S. Court – has been a life-long champion of women’s and minority rights. Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA’s New’s Now’s Press Conference USA, Justice Ginsburg says she had the good fortune to grow up in an era when equality was the “prime concern” in the United States, which had to overcome a legacy of slavery and compensate for “losing the talent of half the population.”
Regarding the status of women, even today she says that she sometimes feels that “men of a certain age” who are not used to how the world has changed will “tune me out,” demonstrating a tendency “not to listen to a woman’s voice.” She says that whether a woman is a doctor, a lawyer, or a teacher, there is no satisfaction greater than “doing something to make your community a little better because of the skill that you have.” Around the world, she says, governments and businesses need to “draw on a tremendous talent pool.” For those meeting difficult challenges, she says she would advise them to “have a sense of humor,” and not to react to slights and putdowns with anger, and “never to lose sight of what your real objective is.” That is, don’t waste time on emotions that simply retard your effort.
Explaining the role of the Supreme Court in the U.S. political system, Justice Ginsberg says the U.S. Constitution creates three separate and independent branches of the government – the executive, legislative, and judiciary. She says the job of the judiciary is to judge cases and controversies fairly and impartially. And unlike the Congress and the Executive branch, the Court has no political agenda.
Justice Ginsberg says she thinks the labels “activist” vs. “strict constructionist judges” are grossly misused. Supposedly a strict constructionist adheres to the text of the Constitution whereas an activist judge does what he or she wants. But every judge in the nation is bound “by our oath to support and defend this Constitution of the United States.” She notes that in 1787, when the Constitution was completed, “We the people … were all white, all male, and they all owned property.” She says the genius of the Constitution is that it has managed to survive over two centuries because “we the people” over the course of the history of the United States have become more and more expansive.
Regarding whether the “separation of church and state,” which is guaranteed by the First Amendment, is facing particular challenges in the 21st century, Justice Ginsberg says the Constitution has two clauses related to religion. One guarantees freedom of religion – that is, the right of every person to worship or not to worship according to his or her own conscience. It also says the government shall not be involved in preferring one religion over another. She says there are now – and there always will be – some zealously religious groups who think their way is the only right way, but our country is based on tolerance of differences. She reminds that the U.S. motto is “E pluribus unum” – out of many, one.
Justice Ginsburg is of Jewish parentage and both of her parents’ families fled Europe in the early 20th century at a time when anti-Semitism was high. She says she has seen in her lifetime a “distinct improvement in the United States.” When she was growing up, there were still places with signs that said, “No dogs or Jews allowed.”
With last year’s retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Conner, Justice Ginsberg is the only female judge of the nine judges serving on the Supreme Court. Regarding her proudest professional accomplishment, Justice Ginsberg says she is proud to see her daughter and granddaughter have opportunities that her mother “couldn’t even dream of.”
For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.