Introduction: Symposium Honoring the Advocacy, Scholarship, and Jurisprudence of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

By Franke, Katherine | Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Introduction: Symposium Honoring the Advocacy, Scholarship, and Jurisprudence of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg


Franke, Katherine, Columbia Journal of Gender and Law


I want to welcome back Justice Ginsburg to Columbia Law School. She has been a frequent visitor since her time here as a student in the late 1950s and again as a member of our faculty in the 1970s. I know she knows, but it is worth reiterating that she always has a home here at Columbia.

Forty years and two weeks ago, on January 24, 1972, the Columbia Law School student newspaper reported an exciting development in the history of the law school-Dean Michael Sovern had announced the hiring of the first woman with full tenure to our law faculty. Under the headline "Law Faculty Selects First Woman Member," the students wrote that "Ruth Ginsberg"--spelling her name wrong--"currently a professor at Harvard will be the first woman to hold a tenured professorship here. It is expected that she will teach courses in procedure, which is her specialty, as well as one course and one clinical seminar on Sex Discrimination." The article here, and later on, framed Ruth Ginsburg's expertise as procedure, not sex discrimination--and in fact she had been working with Hans Smit, whose passing we memorialized yesterday, on the Columbia Project on International Procedure. Mike Sovern told me yesterday that when he made her the offer to join the faculty, she insisted that she would come only if she could teach Civil Procedure--something the law school did not need as we already had a deep bench in that area. But she was adamant and he relented.

Just below the article announcing Ginsburg's hiring was another piece describing how the law school's "Women's Rights Group" had been holding a non-credit "Women and the Law" series where outside experts would be coming in to lecture the students on topics such as Equal Protection, Government Benefits, Abortion and Other Controls of the Body, and Fair Employment. Given that prior to Ruth Ginsburg's hiring there was no one on the law faculty who could teach these issues, the students took it into their own hands and brought in outside experts to fill in the substantial gap in the faculty's expertise.

The New York Times covered Ginsburg's hiring at Columbia and congratulated Columbia for having "snared a prize"! (1) I must say The New York Times has not given as much enthusiastic attention to our hiring decisions since then.

She wasted no time getting involved in gender-equity issues close to home at the University. Within her first month here, she learned that as a cost-saving matter the University was planning to lay off twenty-five maids but no janitors. She took this issue on and in the end no one--male or female--lost their jobs. She also supported a comprehensive pay equity salary study, the extension of health insurance coverage for pregnancy, and the equalization of benefits paid to retired male and female employees under the TIAA-CREF plan--since women lived longer, we received smaller monthly payments. We snared a prize indeed!

Professor Ginsburg distinguished herself at Columbia for skill in melding her teaching, scholarship, and advocacy. Over her eight years on our faculty, she taught a course called Women's Rights: Sex Discrimination and the Law and collaborated in the writing of the first case book in this area--Henna Hill Kay will be talking about the book this afternoon. And, as if starting a new teaching job, writing a case book, agitating for women's rights on campus, serving in the leadership of many professional committees, and being mother to two young children weren't enough, she also founded the ACLU's Women's Rights Project and litigated some of the most important gender-equality cases of the modern era.

Between 1972 and 1980, she filed briefs in nine of the major sex discrimination cases decided by the Supreme Court and personally argued six of them, winning all but one. She also filed amicus briefs in fifteen related cases.

Along the way, she became one of the principal architects of the constitutional paradigm of sex equality we have inherited today. …

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