Updated: Sep 19, 2020
At the Lillian Parker Wallace Lecture on Sept. 23, 2019, Meredith College welcomed one of the most influential and controversial figures of our time to its stage at Meymandi Concert Hall: the 107th Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Justice Ginsburg has been breaking barriers for women and men alike for decades. She was nominated to the US Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in June of 1993, and, after being confirmed by the US Senate with only three votes against her, became the second-ever female Supreme Court justice.
Meredith alumna Anne Bryan, whose graduating class founded the Wallace Lecture Endowment, was the first at the podium to introduce the event. Meredith College President Jo Allen then acknowledged Justice Ginsburg as the recipient of the ceremonial Meredith College Woman of Achievement Award, and proceeded to welcome the justice to stage. RBG was interviewed by Suzanne Reynolds, a class of 1971 alumna and former dean of Wake Forest University School of Law.
One of Justice Ginsburg’s messages was the importance of seeing more women on the Supreme Court. Justice Ginsburg has been quoted as saying that there will be enough women on the Supreme Court “when there are nine.” Her defense of this quote is that there have been nine men sitting on the Supreme Court, and no one seemed to bat an eye, so why would having nine women be any different? Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Elena Kagan now sit on the bench to help bring Justice Ginsburg closer to an all-women reality. These three women on the Supreme Court make up one third of the nine seats. Justice Ginsburg calls Sotomayor and Kagan her “sisters in-law” and is pleased that they are there to stay.
Justice Ginsburg received two important pieces of advice from her mother, Cecila Ginsburg: “Be independent, and be a lady.” Justice Ginsburg explained that being independent meant it was okay if she found ‘prince charming,’ but she needed to know how to fend for herself. Being a lady meant that she shouldn’t waste time on emotions that would not get her anywhere. Justice Ginsburg took this advice to heard during the 1970s when she brought six cases concerning gender discrimination before the Supreme Court. Justice Ginsburg likened herself to “a kindergarten teacher” because, at the time, the sitting Supreme Court Justices didn’t believe sex-based discrimination existed. Ginsburg went on to win five out of the six cases she brought in front of the Supreme Court. However, she saw these victories as only small triumphs on the long path to ending sex based discrimination for all.
Justice Ginsburg restated to the audience the advice she’d given Meredith College students earlier that afternoon: “Do something that is outside yourself, something that will make things better in your community for people less fortunate than you are, things that will bring people together instead of dividing them.” She mentioned that if you have something you are truly passionate about or have talent for, you should use that gift for the betterment of our society, whether it be your passion for saving the environment or continuing the fight against remaining discrimination, for example.
Justice Ginsburg has spent 26 years years on the Supreme Court, and she shows no signs of slowing down. She didn’t lose momentum on her journey through law school in the 1950s, nor while raising her children, helping her husband Marty Ginsburg as he battled testicular cancer or her later battles with cancer herself in 1999 and 2009. Despite battling cancer twice, Justice Ginsburg is still physically active as well as mentally. She and her personal trainer, Bryant Johnson, have been training together since her first battle with pancreatic cancer in 1999.
The Lillian Parker Wallace Lecture “A Conversation With Ruth Bader Ginsburg” was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that delivered a historic and memorable message to the Meredith College community. To students at a place where women are encouraged to “Go Strong,” Justice Ginsburg has proven what can happen when someone seeks change and fights for what they believe is right.
By Rachel Van Horne, Staff Writer, and Mimi Mays, Editor in Chief