Ginsburg honored

Justice marks 15 years and counting

April 13, 2009|By Robert Barnes | Robert Barnes,The Washington Post

COLUMBUS, Ohio -The symposium on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's life on and before the Supreme Court had all the trappings of a grand finale: laudatory tributes, scholarly evaluations of her jurisprudence, a running theme about her love of opera and her unfulfilled desire to be a great diva.

Absent was any mention of an exit from the stage.

If anything, Ginsburg's appearance at Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law - and at a host of other events since the 76-year-old justice had surgery in February to remove a cancerous pancreatic tumor - seemed intended to send a contrary message.

She hasn't missed a session of the court, either in recuperation from surgery or because of the cautionary chemotherapy started in March. She has issued more opinions since then than any of the other justices, save one, and has been a persistent questioner in oral arguments.

In a video tribute shown at Friday's daylong symposium, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. offered "my warm congratulations on the occasion of your reaching the midpoint of your tenure." He said Ginsburg - who is celebrating 15 years on the high court - has "earned acclaim for your work ethic, intellectual rigor, precision with words and total disregard for the normal day-night work schedule adhered to by everyone else since the beginning of recorded history."

Ginsburg often makes her case in public speeches. And when she thinks her colleagues have misinterpreted a statute, she writes a dissent that on Friday she called a "red flag," essentially asking Congress to take action.

Her dissent in the court's 2007 decision that threw out an Alabama tire company manager's suit alleging discriminatory pay made Lilly Ledbetter a heroine on the left and led Congress to change the law, presenting President Barack Obama with his first major bill to sign.

She stuck to familiar topics during a question-and-answer session: a defense of looking to the holdings of foreign courts to inform the Supreme Court's decisions; her view that the "court never leads" in promoting social change but works in concert with other branches of government; and her frustration at being the court's lone woman since the first, Sandra Day O'Connor, left the court in 2006.

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