Ginsburg says VMI work 'exhilarating'
She wrote opinion killing men-only rule
BY CARLOS SANTOS
Times-Dispatch Staff Writer
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
told an assembly of University of Virginia law students yesterday that
she found the court's VMI experience ''exhilarating and sometimes exhausting.''
Ginsburg, a pioneer for women in the legal profession who in 1993 became
the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court, wrote the main opinion
striking down the school's men-only admission policy.
The court voted 7-1 in June, with Justice Antonin Scalia dissenting.
Ginsburg, who spoke to several hundred students, said she thought the
court's almost-unanimous decision was an indicator of a ''remarkable change''
in the court's historical attitude toward women's rights.
She also praised Scalia's dissenting opinion. ''There's nothing as effective
in sharpening a majority opinion as a good defense. I went through nine
drafts. . . . My original opinion was good, quite good, but much better
with Justice Scalia's dissent.''
Ginsburg, appointed by President Clinton, has long worked at ending
institutionalized discrimination against women. Between 1973 and 1976,
she argued six cases on women's rights before the Supreme Court and won
five of them. Some of the cases involved teachers who were fired because
they were pregnant.
Ginsburg, a woman who chose her words carefully, called ''the business
of judging consuming. Judges provide something of value to law schools
in visiting like I am. Then we return to work refreshed.''
She said, ''Judges need critical commentary but also need defenders
from unfair criticisms of the political branches, from the press and even
our own academy.'' She praised the independent judicial system, a concept
that she said was spreading in the world.
''A good judge must strive to do what is legally right even when the
results are not what the Congress, the president or the home crowd wants,''
said Ginsburg, who carries around a small copy of the Constitution.
She made several other observations including that:
* The O.J. Simpson trial ''caused us a lot of grief.'' Groups touring
the Supreme Court ''would ask us where the jury sits. . . . It has given
the public a misperception of how the judicial system works.''
* She is in favor of cameras in the courtroom if they provide gavel-to-gavel
coverage. ''The problem is the dullness of most court proceedings . . .
it's often tedious.''
* She still favors the Equal Rights Amendment, ''though there is no
practical difference between what has evolved and the ERA. I would still
like it as a symbol to see the ERA in the Constitution for my granddaughter.''
* Evolving science and technology are bringing about ''all kinds of
fascinating new issues. The intellectually property field is burdened with
* The press is not reporting that in fact the Supreme Court is often
in agreement in many cases. In the last term it voted unanimously in 42
percent of the cases with a high percentage involving only one dissenter.
* Some news reports are more accurate than others. Before she releases
an opinion she writes a layman's summary of it so ''reporters don't have
to wade through dense legal prose.''
Ginsburg is to receive the 1997 Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation
Award in Law. She will receive the 21st annual award at U.Va. in April
at a private luncheon.
The award recognizes distinguished contributions in law, a field of
deep interest to Thomas Jefferson. It is the highest outside honor conferred
by U.Va., which awards no honorary degrees.