“The ABA has played a prominent part in my life as a lawyer and as a judge,” Ginsburg said to an audience of ABA leadership, staff and guests who had gathered together Wednesday afternoon to celebrate.
In honor of the day, the D.C. Council issued a proclamation declaring June 26 to be American Bar Association Day in Washington.
“We come to celebrate and to rededicate ourselves to our founding principles,” ABA President Laurel G. Bellows said. “Today , we not only cut a ceremonial ribbon to open the doors to our new building, but we also symbolically use the rule of law to cut the ribbons of injustice and inequity and open the doors to a better, fairer, more just society.”
In introducing Ginsburg, Bellows said it was impossible to adequately summarize the justice’s storied career and many accomplishments.
“There are few judges as approachable and as candid as Justice Ginsburg,” she said. “In her written decisions, lawyers hear a voice of reasoned humanity. In her questions, court watchers hear an analytical mind that cherishes the rule of law over rule by law. And in her varied appearances, the public hears a generosity of spirit that reminds us that law is shelter and the courts are our guardians.”
“We are delighted that Justice Ginsburg blazed trails in the American Bar Association,” Bellows added.
Ginsburg’s affiliation with the ABA began in the 1960s. “In those days, precious few women appeared on ABA rosters,” Ginsburg said.
The turning point for women in the legal profession began in 1972, Ginsburg said. That year, female enrollment in law schools surged, and Ginsburg herself was invited to join the Columbia Law School faculty and the board of editors for the ABA Journal.
She applauded the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession for furthering progress toward equal opportunity for women in the law.
“There is a way to go,” Ginsburg said. “But consider the distance we have traveled since the not-so-good, not-so-old days when no law firm offered employment to a stellar Stanford graduate, Sandra Day O’Connor, or to me, when I was about to receive a degree from Columbia Law School.”
Ginsburg praised the ABA for its contributions to the well-being of the legal profession and said she hoped the organization would continue to thrive.
“In truth, I have received much more than I have given,” she said. “Without ABA support, I do not believe I would hold the good job I have today.”
Ginsburg described how she received the highest rating from the ABA when she was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1980 and again 13 years later when she was nominated to the Supreme Court. She added that former ABA President Chesterfield Smith gave “glowing” testimony at her Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
The committee vote in her favor was unanimous, and the Senate confirmed her in a 96-3 vote.
“No one raised a question about my service on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union or as general counsel to the union or co-founder of its Women’s Rights Project,” she said. “It is my hope that with the ABA’s strong and constant encouragement, the Senate will someday return to its collegial, bipartisan spirit that Justice [Stephen] Breyer and I had the good fortune to experience.”
At the conclusion of the dedication ceremony, Bellows surprised Ginsburg by presenting her with a plaque and informing her that the ABA had named a conference room after her.
“For your service to our country on the high court, for your support of the American Bar Association, for inspiring girls to be lawyers and women to become judges, and for the essential humanity of your writing, it is our privilege to name a meeting room devoted to the pursuit of justice and the defense of liberty in your name,” Bellows said.
She said the ABA has named all its meeting rooms in honor of revered high justices of the Supreme Court.
“I am overwhelmed,” Ginsburg said. “I thank you beyond measure for this.”