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February 17, 2021 Voices

Thinking About Justice Ginsburg

By Marcia Lynn Sells

Hans Smit, my first-year civil procedure professor, was a tall and boisterous man. He scared me, and I thought I would not make it through the course, but I did. And then, just before the end of the spring semester in 1982, he asked me if I wanted to work as his research assistant. I was stunned he asked but said yes.

While I worked for him, he talked many times about how he helped bring the first woman professor to Columbia Law School (CLS). It surprised me because he was not the type of person you thought of as advancing woman in the legal profession. He talked about then Judge Ruth Ginsburg who had been appointed to the D.C. Circuit Court in 1980. He raved about his helping her join CLS faculty and become the first tenure-tracked woman law professor at Columbia.

Then in February 2012, I was sitting in CLS room 102 mourning Hans’s passing and listening to now Justice Ginsburg talk about her deep friendship and work relationship with this person who had terrified me and also supported me. Justice Ginsburg was funny regaling us with stories about Professor Smit. RBG revealed a wit and charm in her storytelling that was disarming and lovely as she shared the deep connection she had with Hans. I think about it now and hope the two of them are having a great laugh and even some good arguments.

#RBGandMe: Contribute Your Tributes

Contribute your story on how Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg influenced or inspired your legal career through the interactive Perspectives #RBGandMe this month. For more reflections and tributes on Justice Ginsburg, please visit these other ABA pages and articles:

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By Marcia Lynn Sells

Marcia Lynn Sells recently became the first chief diversity officer at the Metropolitan Opera and is the former associate dean and dean of students at Harvard Law School. She is also a graduate of Columbia Law School, class of 1984.