Top positive review
Ruth Bader Ginsburg Speaks for Herself
Reviewed in the United States on October 15, 2016
We have recently been treated to a host of books and articles on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Forthcoming is an authorized biography by the two Georgetown Law professor editors of this collection of Ginsburg writing, as well as one by Teri Kanefield. In my opinion, no matter how many bios and articles you read about the Justice, your understanding of this remarkable lawyer and judge will be incomplete if you don't also review this collection of material authored by the Justice, spanning her life since the eighth grade. I really felt I came closest to understanding both the professional and personal Ginsburg from this book.
The book has many merits. It affords an insight into how the Supreme Court operates and decides cases; provides us with highly personal and quite moving profiles of Chief Justice Rehnquist and her great friend--and adversary--Justice Scalia; reminds us of her pioneering role as the champion of women's rights as author, professor, and deadly litigator; and not least, helps us understand the private Ginsburg through several appearances by her late husband, tax lawyer Marty Ginsburg. Ginsburg speaks for herself in 36 or so pieces, skillfully tied together and placed in context by the two editors.
The book is divided into five sections. For example, "Early Years" surprised me with a Ginsburg essay written while an undergrad at Cornell on the evils of wiretapping, reflecting the influence of her mentor, the constitutional scholar Robert E. Cushman. In Part Two, "Tributes to Waypavers and Pathmarkers," Ginsburg reveals a remarkable talent for writing short profiles of prominent legal and judicial figures, including Belva Lockwood, Louis Brandeis, Judah P. Benjamin (a fascinating figure; look him up), Breyer, Cardozo, and especially Sandra Day O'Connor. Nobody can pack more info into a short piece than Ginsburg.
The central focus of her professional career as advocate and judge, gender equality, is the focus of Part Three. Symposium introductions; defense of the ERA; her bench announcement in the VMI case; and several summer presentations to summer law students abroad make up this section. One should never forget the impact her unceasing determination had in moving the whole idea of gender equality into the spotlight. Ironically, as is well known, she remains unhappy with the Roe opinion, preferring not to rest it upon privacy but upon straight equality grounds. Part IV has some interesting material on her role as a judge and appointment to the Court.
The final section provides an insight into her views of judging and justice. She explains the Court's workways and why she is so dedicated to judicial independence. She defends effectively the role foreign legal concepts can play for the Justices--a hot item with Scalia, while being promoted by Breyer. She articulates the idea of "measured motions," which basically means don't go too far in an opinion in pushing a point. Most interesting, she explains her view of dissents and dissent announcements, an unusual practice in which she has recently engaged. Finally, she shares her most recent second circuit report on Supreme Court highlights for the 2015-16 term; she gives such reports each year and it is quite interesting to read her candid comments.
One of the major reactions I came away with is how well she can write in no matter what format--a point quite obvious from her incisive opinions. The book runs some 370 pages, including chronology, helpful photos, notes and index. My only problem with the book is that the editors have chosen to relegate most notes (which I read religiously) to a webpage (see "A Note on Sources"). No matter how hard I tried, i could not locate these notes, and I am inclined to think such a separation of notes from text is not a good idea for it diminishes the ability to ingest the notes as you read. But the book itself is magnificent, whether you are a Ginsburg fan or not. At 83, this veteran of cancer flirtations, wars with Scalia, and many hard battles, has said she will remain on the Court as long as she meets her own stringent standards. For that, we can all be thankful.