The Legal Advocate

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You Can’t Handle the Ruth

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Today is International Women’s Day, and who better to help us reflect on the role of women in society and the law than the iconic Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a woman who seemingly has done it all?

Throughout her trailblazing life, Justice Ginsburg has been a judge, a wife, a mother, a law professor, an author, a cancer survivor, a pop icon, a lace jabot collector 😉—and on May 4, she’ll add “movie star” to the list, when the documentary RBG opens in theaters in the U.S.

On being a woman
“My mother told me two things constantly. One was to be a lady and the other was to be independent, and the law was something most unusual for those times because for most girls growing up in the ‘40s, the most important degree was not your B.A. but your M.R.S.”

“At Columbia Law School, my professor of constitutional law and federal courts, Gerald Gunther, was determined to place me in a federal court clerkship, despite what was then viewed as a grave impediment: On graduation, I was the mother of a 4-year-old child.”

“When I graduated from law school in 1959, there wasn’t a single woman on any federal bench. It wouldn’t be a realistic ambition for a woman to want to become a federal judge. It wasn’t realistic until Jimmy Carter became our president.”

On courts and the law
“We have the oldest written constitution still in force in the world, and it starts out with three words, ‘We, the people.’”

“One aspect of appellate judging is we have to give reasons for all of our decisions. And when you sit down and try to write it out, sometimes you find that your first judgment wasn’t the right one.”

“A judge sworn to decide impartially can offer no forecasts, no hints, for that would show not only disregard for the specifics of the particular case, it would display disdain for the entire judicial process.”

On being a pop icon
“At my advanced age—I’m now an octogenarian—I’m constantly amazed by the number of people who want to take my picture.”

“I think a law clerk told me about this tumblr and also explained to me what Notorious RBG was a parody on. And now my grandchildren love it, and I try to keep abreast of the latest that’s on the tumblr.”

“I do a variety of weightlifting, elliptical glider, stretching exercises, pushups.” (Try her workout here.)

“In 2015, an opera opened about me and Justice Antonin Scalia. It’s called Scalia/Ginsburg. The composer, Derrick Wang, has degrees in music from Harvard and Yale. Enrolled in law school, he was reading dueling opinions by me and Justice Scalia and decided he could compose an appealing comic opera from them.”

“If I had any talent that God could give me, I would be a great diva.”

On life
“You can disagree without being disagreeable.”

“I am fearful, or suspicious, of generalizations. . . . They cannot guide me reliably in making decisions about particular individuals.”

“Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”

“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

“I really concentrate on what’s on my plate at the moment and do the very best I can.”

“The label ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative,’ every time I hear that, I think of the great Gilbert and Sullivan song from Iolanthe. It goes, ‘Every gal and every boy that’s born alive is either a little liberal or else a little conservative.’ What do those labels mean? It depends on whose ox is being gored.”

“When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out.”

“You can’t have it all all at once. Over my lifespan, I think I have had it all, but in given periods in time, things were rough. And if you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it.”

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NITA’s team of practicing lawyers, professors and judges from around the nation dedicates its efforts to the training and development of skilled and ethical legal advocates to improve the adversarial justice system.

NITA’s Goals are to:

  • Promote justice through effective and ethical advocacy.
  • Train and mentor lawyers to be competent and ethical advocates in pursuit of justice.
  • Develop and teach trial advocacy skills to support and promote the effective and fair administration of justice.
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