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RBG: A special friend to the ABA

Sept. 28, 2020

The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a long and close relationship with the American Bar Association. The ground-breaking jurist, who passed away Sept. 18 at the age of 87, was the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court, where she served for 27 years.

“Ginsburg made vast and lasting contributions to the law and to the profession,” said ABA President Patricia Lee Refo on her passing. “She was a commanding voice as an advocate for gender equality and a tenacious protector of the rule of law. She inspired generations of young lawyers in her lifetime. Although she will be greatly missed, her legacy will continue to inspire future generations of lawyers.”

After her death, the ABA released a video featuring the 10 women who have served as ABA president speaking about what Ruth Bader Ginsburg meant to them. “Justice Ginsburg may be the most extraordinary person I’ve ever met,” said Roberta Cooper Ramo, who was ABA president from 1995-96.  “Without her, really, I’m not sure that women in the United States would be where we are today.” 

Paulette Brown, ABA president from 2015-16, said, “What I’ve learned from Justice Ginsburg is that no matter the obstacles that are placed before you, if you have the right determination, the appropriate grit, that you can overcome those obstacles and continue to do what you know is right, what you know is just and what you know serves the people.”

A special friend of the ABA, Ginsburg was honored with awards and was asked to speak on important occasions, some of which include:

  • From 1972-78, when she was a professor at Columbia Law School, Ginsburg served as a member of the ABA Journal Board of Editors.
  • Ginsburg received the Thurgood Marshall Award from the Civil Rights and Social Justice Section in 1999 in recognition of her development and advancement of gender equality law.
  • In 2005, Ginsburg wrote a tribute to Constance Baker Motley in Human Rights Magazine.
  • The ABA Medal, the association’s highest honor, given for “exceptionally distinguished service by a lawyer or lawyers to the cause of American jurisprudence,” was awarded to Ginsburg in 2010.
  • In 2013 Ginsburg helped dedicate the ABA’s new Washington office, where a conference room is named in her honor.
  • In February 2020, Ginsburg received the World Peace and Liberty Award at the ABA office in Washington, D.C., from Javier Cremades, president of the World Jurist Association and the World Law Foundation. Previous recipients include Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela.
  • Also in February, Ginsburg reminisced about her mother marching in suffragette parades in New York City when she sat down with Judge M. Margaret McKeown of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to discuss “Searching for Equality: The 19th Amendment and Beyond,” at Georgetown University Law Center. It was a miracle the 19th Amendment passed, Ginsburg said, because “suffragettes had to sell votes for women to an all-male audience [in Congress] and that was no easy task.” Of the Equal Rights Amendment she noted: “Every constitution in the world written since the year 1950, even Afghanistan, has the equivalent of an equal rights amendment, and we don’t,” Ginsburg said. “I would like to show my granddaughters that the equal citizenship stature of men and women is a fundamental human right.”
  • Ginsburg and her late husband, tax attorney Martin Ginsburg, will be honored in a video tribute at the opening session of the ABA’s 2020 Virtual Fall Tax Meeting on Sept. 29. Their son, James, will give remarks.
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