Ruth Bader Ginsburg started law school as one of nine women among more than 500 1Ls at Harvard. At the time, Harvard’s business school didn’t even admit women, she said.
Ginsburg and her husband, Martin, wanted to go into the same field, so the limited options for her made the choice to study law easy, she told Tulane Law School students, professors and alumni gathered in Paris for a July 12 panel discussion that capped off Tulane’s summer Institute of European Legal Studies.
Ruth Ginsburg spent two years at Harvard Law while her daughter, Jane, was an infant. When Martin Ginsburg got his law degree and landed a job in New York City, Ruth finished her studies at Columbia Law School, graduating in 1959.
At that time, she said, “employers were upfront” about not wanting female lawyers.
“Today, all doors are open to women.”
Lawyer, U.S. Supreme Court justice, wife, mother, grandmother, opera lover, Ginsburg blazed trails not just for women but for men through her legal advocacy, knocking down laws that unreasonably treated the sexes differently. Between 1973 and 1976, she won five of six cases on gender equality that she argued at the Supreme Court.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter nominated Ginsburg to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In 1993, President Bill Clinton named her to the U.S. Supreme Court. Aug. 3 marks the 20th anniversary of her Senate confirmation as a justice.
With a pair of lectures, two receptions and a discussion with other female pioneers who helped open doors for women in the legal profession, Justice Ginsburg highlighted the return of Tulane’s summer program to Paris.
During the three-week program, hosted by Paris-Dauphine University, 22 students covered topics such as comparisons between U.S. and European approaches to judicial review and the impact of European Union antitrust and merger rules on U.S. corporations.
In addition to Ginsburg, the July 12 panel featured Mme. Noelle Lenoir, a former French government minister and conseiller at the French Constitutional Court; Judge Margaret McKeown of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco; and Columbia Law Professor Jane Ginsburg, a specialist on intellectual property law and the Berne Convention on copyright – and the Justice’s daughter.
Justice Ginsburg pointed out that Harvard didn’t start admitting women until 1950. At Tulane, by contrast, Bettie Runnels graduated in 1898.
Lenoir told of initially wanting to be a theater actress. But her Russian grandmother was one of the first female lawyers in France, and her aunt was a bar president in 1959, she said. “I studied law to be a civic servant,” Lenoir said. “It’s very important to be able to defend your ideas and defend people based on justice.”
McKeown said she was accepted out of high school to a Cornell Medical School program in pediatrics, but her father said girls shouldn’t be doctors. She became intrigued with the way law combines public good, people and procedure – and she learned the value of networking. McKeown recounted that when she took her first course on sex discrimination, there was no textbook. A professor suggested she write to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who provided McKeown with details from the trenches.
By the time Jane Ginsburg entered Harvard, she said, women made up 25 percent of the class, but in her three years there, she never had a class with the lone female professor. Even so, she said, “there was no overt sexism on the part of the institution,” and she had “a couple of wonderful male mentors.”
Tulane students at the Paris program and alumni in Europe had an opportunity to continue visiting with the panelists after the presentation. Tulane alumni at the Paris office of White & Case had hosted a reception for program participants and alumni the night before.
“It was a great privilege to have Justice Ginsburg join with Tulane students and alumni for back-to-back receptions in Paris, and to welcome the Justice back to teach in her third Tulane summer program,” Dean David Meyer said.
“The opportunity to engage directly with Justice Ginsburg on the advancement of women in the legal profession – given that she has personally driven a great deal of that advancement, as a civil rights litigator, scholar and judge – was extraordinary.”
Ian Forrester, a senior partner in the White & Case Paris office, listens as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks to Tulane Law School alumni and students at a reception hosted by the firm July 11. (Photo credit: Xavier Kompe Monthe)
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