On a day of admiration and applause under a tent in the Radcliffe Yard, United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg received the annual Radcliffe Medal, discussed her career as a justice and litigator, and imparted advice on today’s young women.
“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you. That is one vital aspect, a sense of humor,” Ginsburg said when asked if she had any words for the next generation of women.
The Radcliffe Medal is awarded annually by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study “to an individual who has had a transformative impact on society,” according to the Radcliffe Day website. Past winners include University President Drew G. Faust and Harvard Overseer, former Crimson news editor, and New York Times journalist Linda J. Greenhouse ’68.
Joined on the stage by Kathleen M. Sullivan, a former Harvard Law School professor and former dean of Stanford Law School, Ginsburg discussed landmark cases she argued during her career as a litigator—including Reed v. Reed and Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, two gender discrimination cases decided by the Supreme Court.
“The object was to get at the stereotype that held women back from doing whatever their talent would allow them to do,” said Ginsburg, who attended Harvard Law School but graduated from Columbia's.
Those decisions, which Ginsburg argued in the 1970s, “laid the groundwork for the law that started to break down those old, archaic, and outmoded stereotypes” of women, according to Sullivan. The event was also at times light hearted: Ginsburg and Sullivan discussed the upcoming opera “Scalia/Ginsburg” and Ginsburg’s newfound status as a cultural icon.
Ginsburg was not the only Supreme Court justice present at Friday’s ceremony: Former Justice David H. Souter ’61 introduced Ginsburg and recounted his time on the bench with her. He recalled his first day working with Ginsburg, and his surprise that she, as a first-time justice, was asking more questions than both he and Justice Antonin Scalia did that day.
“Justice Ginsburg is a tiger justice,” Souter said.
Radcliffe Institute Dean Lizabeth Cohen also introduced Ginsburg and commended her for how she “knocked on closed doors and held them open.”
“She is a passionate advocate for equality, and a dispassionate jurist for justice. Whether in the majority or in the minority, she illuminates a path for society of greater and fairness and dignity. She elevates the work of the Court by respecting her opponents while holding steadfast to her convictions,” Cohen said as she gave Ginsburg the medal.