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December 13, 2020 HUMAN RIGHTS

Roundtable Discussion on RBG Remembrances from October 29, 2020

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a member of the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice Council from 1975 until her appointment to the federal bench in 1980. Four past Section chairs who served on the Council with Justice Ginsburg, along with a Young Lawyers Division liaison to do the same, gathered to discuss serving with Justice Ginsburg, and the issues and activities of the Council at that time. The discussion was moderated by Mark Schickman, Section Chair from 2014 to 2015 and Young Lawyers Division liaison to the Section from 1983 to 1987.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a member of the Section Council
from 1975 until her appointment to the federal bench in 1980.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a member of the Section Council from 1975 until her appointment to the federal bench in 1980.


Mark Schickman: What a pleasure it is to be on this panel with people who, without exception, do the best kind of work that lawyers do, role models and heroes are you all. So, I’d like to introduce the group that we have before us. And I’m going to do it in order of having Council office. 

I’d like to first introduce everybody to Lou Pritchard. After earlier work for the Section, Lou came on the Council in 1973, became secretary in 1975, and chaired the Section 1978–79. Lou, glad to be with you today. It’s great to be with everyone. 

We also have with us Peter Langrock. Peter was one of the founding members of the Section; he was around right from the beginning. He became a Council member in 1973, secretary in 1976, and Section chair 1980–81. 

Peter Langrock: Good to be here. I’m the only person who’s ever lost election for the chair and then got elected the following year.

Mark Schickman: I noticed that. I was going to tell our friend Cruz Reynoso that it looks like he flunked secretary because he spent two years in that role. But you’ve explained to us how and why that happened.

Peter Langrock: He was most gracious. He stepped back a year so I could get back in line.

Mark Schickman: Immediately following Peter as chair is Marna Tucker of the District of Columbia. Marna was working on projects with the Section long before this but became a Council member in 1975, secretary in 1979, and chair of the Section in 1982. Welcome, Marna.

Marna Tucker: Thank you. Good to be here with wonderful...I don’t want to say old friends, long-established friends.

Mark Schickman: Let me continue with Martha Barnett, who was the Young Lawyers Division liaison 1977 to 1979. They would not let her leave the Council after her term as liaison was over, and she became a Council member in 1980 and chaired it in 1982 to 1983. Following a distinguished stint as chair of the ABA House of Delegates, in 2002 to 2001, Martha served as one of the finest presidents the American Bar Association has ever had.

Martha Barnett: Well, thank you. Those are mighty, mighty kind and generous, and a little bit exaggerated, comments, but I liked them, and I’ll take them. So, thank you.

Mark Schickman: And following in Martha’s footsteps as YLD liaison to the Section is Barbara Mayden. Barbara was also chair of the ABA Young Lawyers Division and of the ABA Business Law Section.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg served on our [Individual Rights and Responsibilities, or IRR] Council from 1975 until her appointment to the bench in 1980. In 1975, she was a tenured law professor at Columbia Law School—the first woman to get tenure at Columbia Law School—teaching courses ranging from civil procedure to Equal Opportunity Employment seminars. What are folks’ recollections about when she joined our Section Council?

Peter Langrock: I can remember when she joined. I was chair of the Council, and we were dealing with the notion of private clubs. I don’t remember the full context of the resolution, but it was private clubs that were based upon gender discrimination, and we opposed. Ruth came up to me and said: Peter, can I talk to you for a minute? She said, your decision is correct, but you must understand that this takes time. We want to win this battle, and we have to organize our situation. And ever since then, whenever I disagree with Ruth, I try to figure out where I was wrong. She was just amazingly persuasive on the Council, with that sweet, quiet voice of hers, never ever losing control.

Barbara Mendel Mayden: When Ruth joined the Council, the Council got the ABA to support a resolution that women ought to be considered for the federal judiciary.

Marna Tucker: I mean, it was a sea of white males at the time, but they thought it was okay to say women could be considered for the judiciary. But in 1977, Jimmy Carter became president and decided that he wanted more minorities and women on courts because there were so few women lawyers. I was appointed to the District of Columbia Circuit, and I had the good fortune to have met and talked with Ruth. So, when we were looking for women, I said: What about Ruth Bader Ginsburg? The chair of the judicial nominating committee for D.C. was former Senator Joseph Tidings. He checked with the Second Circuit and said: Are you all going to consider Ruth Bader Ginsburg for the Second Circuit? And they said: No, we’re going to pass on her. I think there were other things said, but I think they did not want women at that time. We in D.C. grabbed her up and nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and it’s one of those wonderful feelings deep in my heart that I have for her. So that’s the history of the Section’s connection with Ruth.

Peter Langrock: One of the great things about the Council meetings was the time away from the Council; it was the dinners, the quiet situations. I remember having dinner with just Ruth and her husband. And we had a cocktail party at my farm, and we had my local neighborhood school bus go pick everybody up and bring them down. Joanne [my wife] probably wouldn’t remember most of anybody who was there, but she remembers Ruth, who was so quiet and so gentle.

Martha Barnett: I’m interested in walking down memory lane with people I’ve loved and admired. I broke down in tears when I heard that she had died. Throughout the last couple of weeks, the impact Ruth had on the rule of law and the rights of women, women citizenship or equal citizenship for men and women in this country, has never been more necessary and more valuable.

I remember the first time I met her. It was at the Section of Individual Rights Council Meeting where I had been sent as a young lawyer. I didn’t know what to expect. I met some people I did not know, but some I knew by reputation. And they introduced me to this petite, quiet, attractive woman, and this was Ruth Bader Ginsburg. My recollection is my mouth fell open thinking, oh my god, this is the Professor Ginsburg, who has been responsible for every major United States Supreme Court case dealing with women’s rights in my tenure as a law student and as a young woman. And there she was in that room. I said, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Professor Ginsburg, and she said just call me Ruth. For the next 40 plus years, I did call her Ruth on occasion. Mostly I called her Justice Ginsburg, with great pride, for her demeanor and her character and her intellect. I got to know this incredible woman who literally changed my life, and I think the lives of most of us, and certainly the legal history of America.

Barbara Mendel Mayden: I graduated law school at the University of Georgia in 1976 and went to the big city of Atlanta to work for a big law firm. There was something at the time that I think lasted till the ’90s called the National Conference of Women in the Law. It was an annual meeting with the luminaries of the profession, you know, all three of them. So, the women in Athens, Georgia, got in touch with me and asked if I would help lead the charge.

So, I found the only resource I could find, which was the [ACLU] Women’s Rights Project. Everything had Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s name on it. That’s when I learned that this person is the one who is making a difference for me and for everybody. I had completely immersed myself in Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and this is before “Notorious RBG.” There in that woman was everything that I had fought for and would continue to fight for the next 40 years. The reason I have stayed involved in the ABA and worked on these issues dates back to that time on the Council, where I learned that I could deal with these issues with the people who are making a difference, and we could make a difference, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the source of that for me.

Llewelyn Pritchard: What I remember of Ruth as being a member of the Council was her always sitting with Deborah Greenberg and her husband Jack, who was the head of the NAACP in New York. They were very much a part of the New York Columbia Law School intellectuals, active members of the bar of the city of New York, and this Section. Not all Sections of the ABA reviewed matters coming before the House of Delegates. But we would develop discussions and debates on all of the issues and bring our Section delegates. I remember her really participating in all aspects of our work and some of the social events. Sometimes I served with Ruth on other ABA committees or councils or task forces.

I brought my daughter Jennifer to a meeting, and we all [Ruth, Marty, and their son] went to Disney World together. Their son Jimmy was the same age as my daughter, so that would have been about 1977.

Peter Langrock: I remember her personally for her gentleness and her appreciation of young women and mentoring. I’ve had the good fortune of being before the Supreme Court on numerous occasions, and one particular occasion I was moving the admission of a young woman. And that’s the only time I ever got a smile from a Supreme Court justice. Ruth gave me a smile like saying you’re doing the right thing.

Llewelyn Pritchard: Do any of you remember Marty coming to the meetings? God, he was a great guy.

Martha Barnett: I’ll tell you my Marty story I remember the most. It was a Saturday midday, and I was out in my yard working. My husband came out and said, you’ve got a phone call from somebody named Martin Ginsburg. I didn’t think about Martin and Marty being the same person, though I met him several times. Marty wanted me to call the First Lady, then First Lady Hillary Clinton. He said that Ruth was really probably the number one person on Clinton’s list, but that he felt like the Clintons needed to hear from a lot of people from around the country about how important it would be to nominate Ruth Ginsburg for the Supreme Court.

I, of course, said I’d be happy to try to reach out to the First Lady. But it was Saturday afternoon, and I didn’t know if I’d be able to get her. And I did. The next day, Clinton appointed her. I don’t think it had a thing to do with my call.

Over the years, I’ve learned more and more about their very special relationship and their lifetime love affair. There he was at that moment in her life doing something either she couldn’t by personality or by the particular position. There Marty was with his gregarious friendly warm advocacy for a woman he loved, but also a person that he believed was exactly who should be put on the United States Supreme Court. And it’s something I’ve thought about—their relationship and the importance that partnership had on her life and frankly on Marty’s life as well.

Martha Barnett: I suspect most of you all have gotten this, but there was a book published about three years ago by Ruth. Official biographers decided to go ahead and publish a book of some of her works before they released her biography. It’s divided into substantive areas, but it goes through many of the speeches, events, lectures, but also comments she made from the bench. They are recorded, and if you get the audio version, you will be able to hear Ruth Ginsburg actually giving the speeches.

What reminded me of it now was Marty and the relationship Ruth had with her husband. She had been awarded some honor by the 10th Circuit and was going to be presented an award. Marty was going to introduce her, but he died before the event took place. He had already written his remarks about Ruth, and a couple weeks later she attended the 10th Circuit and read Marty’s remarks about how he got his wife her very good job. To have Ruth Ginsburg give those remarks was a moment I will never forget.

The book recounts how she clearly respected the American Bar Association. It comes through in some of the remarks she made, as she spoke positively about the work of the bar and the importance of the American Bar Association. I believe she stayed a member of the ABA until a point where it became an almost recusal ethical issue. But Ruth Ginsburg valued her time with the bar and the friendships she made. More importantly, she valued [the ABA] as an institution. And I think the American Bar Association, as it’s trying to find itself and remake itself and address the challenges of today, can take some comfort and inspiration in the fact that Ruth Bader Ginsburg believed that this institution is one of the important ones for the rule of law and the legal profession.

Mark Schickman: Columbia’s website has a tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the two first honors mentioned are the ABA Medal and the Thurgood Marshall Award that our Section gave to her.

Marna Tucker: If you look at that resolution concerning getting more women on the federal judiciary, it was 1975. It was almost a decade later that we got to the private clubs resolution. And it was Ruth’s counsel to be very strategic. She was strategic in her court cases on the Supreme Court, and she taught us it’s going to take time, but be strategic. If you look at the resolutions that went forward in 1976, there’s one to get the ABA to encourage the full participation of women in their entities; there were virtually no women chairs of Sections or committees. The amendment was that the ABA would “continue their support of women in the Association.”

She fought a battle long and hard. The night I heard she died, I wrote on one of my social media pages: Rest in peace, Ruth, we’ll take it from here.

Llewelyn Pritchard: The Section provided a launching pad for Ruth’s involvement in the ABA, and the ABA began to involve her in more of the mainstream activities of the association.

Martha Barnett: A little footnote: It was on a trip to China where Ruth Ginsburg and Chesterfield Smith met and became the best of friends. That trip to China started a friendship that lasted the rest of their lives.

Barbara Mendel Mayden: Also, I’m not sure this is an appropriate story, but there was a dinner at the Supreme Court. I was sitting at a table with Ruth and Justice Scalia and a couple other people. She asked: Where’s David? David Souter. I said he couldn’t come—he had a date. And she dropped her fork. I said, just kidding. I did make her laugh.