Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says her work keeps her going

Share story

Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks at the Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington on on Aug. 31, 2019.
Cliff Owen | AP Photo

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was invited to speak at the Clinton Foundation and Clinton School of Public Service’s Frank and Kula Kumpuris Distinguished Lecture series.

Longtime NPR legal affairs reporter Nina Totenberg conducted the hourlong interview on stage in the Verizon Arena in Little Rock, Ark., better known for hosting major concerts and sporting events. Ginsburg, who is now 86, finished a round of radiation treatment for pancreatic cancer in late August and told the audience of 15,000-plus people of all ages that “my work keeps me going.”

Ginsburg spoke about her experience at Harvard Law School, where she was one of just nine women in a 500-person class, and her daily life as a law student, young mother and wife to her husband Marty who had cancer when they were in law school. She later became an appellate judge and an associate justice of the Supreme Court.

She was the second woman appointed to the nation's highest court after Sandra Day O'Connor had been the lone woman on the court for 12 years.

"It's a habit ... you don't expect very much from a woman, so you kind of tune out when she speaks, but you listen when a male speaks. Now I can tell you that that experience, which I had as a member of the law faculty, as a member of the court of appeals, now that I have two sisters-in-law, it doesn't happen." Ginsburg referred to Associate Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor as her “sisters-in-law.”

Listen to President Clinton's 14 minute introduction
by MPR

Former President Bill Clinton nominated Ginsburg for the Supreme Court in 1993, and she was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on a vote of 96-3 — A number she specifically recalled during this interview. Clinton gave introductory remarks, and said that during his first conversation with Ginsburg “I just knew she was the right person for the court.” It was a decision he said he never regretted, and that she exceeded his high expectations … but he never imagined she’d become a pop icon.