• The Star Staff

Justice is honored as pioneer of women’s rights in first day of ceremonies

By The New York Times

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was honored Wednesday as a pioneer of women’s rights who brought the nation closer to its vision of equal justice through a storied career as a lawyer and on the bench.

In a short, simple and modest ceremony in keeping with her own reputation for humility, Ginsburg’s family and fellow members of the Supreme Court paid their respects in the Great Hall of the building where she served for 27 years. Her coffin was then brought outside, where she will lie in repose as Americans bid farewell over the next two days.

“Justice Ginsburg’s life was one of the many versions of the American dream,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said during the ceremony inside the building. “Her father was an immigrant from Odessa. Her mother was born four months after her family arrived from Poland. Her mother later worked as a bookkeeper in Brooklyn. Ruth used to ask what is the difference in a bookkeeper in Brooklyn and a Supreme Court justice. Her answer: one generation.”

The chief justice, who was the only one to speak other than Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, recalled that Ginsburg wanted to be an opera singer but pursued law only to find herself the subject of discrimination because of her sex at law school and in the workforce. She went on to become perhaps the country’s leading advocate fighting that discrimination.

“She was not an opera star, but she found her stage right behind me in our courtroom,” Roberts said. “There, she won famous victories that helped move our nation closer to equal justice under law, to the extent that women are now a majority in law schools, not simply a handful. Later, she became a star on the bench.”

He said her 483 opinions — majority, concurring and dissenting — would “steer the court for decades” to come.

“They are written with the unaffected grace of precision,” he said. “Her voice in court and in our conference room was soft, but when she spoke, people listened.”

The chief justice was joined by the other seven current members of the court, seated in order of seniority, as well as Anthony M. Kennedy, the retired justice, and several of their spouses, all wearing face masks and sitting apart in keeping with social-distancing guidelines because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The ceremony lasted 18 minutes from the time the coffin was brought into the hall by Supreme Court police officers serving as pallbearers. Ginsburg’s former clerks lined the steps of the court building before the ceremony and as the coffin was placed on the portico while visitors paying their respects filed past at the bottom of the stairs.


Prominent Republicans and Democrats, including the Clintons, pay their respects.

Prominent politicians from both parties took turns climbing the steps of the Supreme Court on Wednesday afternoon to pay their respects to Ginsburg, including former President Bill Clinton, who nominated her, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The Clintons stood solemnly beside Ginsburg’s coffin, and Bill Clinton’s office issued a statement honoring her as mourners crowded around the court to commemorate her loss.

“With the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, America has lost one of the most extraordinary justices ever to serve on the Supreme Court,” the statement said. “She was a magnificent judge and a wonderful person — a brilliant lawyer with a caring heart, common sense, fierce devotion to fairness and equality, and boundless courage in the face of her own adversity.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of only two members of her party to oppose the push to quickly confirm a replacement for Ginsburg just weeks before the presidential election, crossed the street from the Capitol to mourn her as well.

“It was a very moving experience,” Collins said afterward. “Although I obviously didn’t agree with all of her decisions, I admired her principled approach to every issue. This loss is personal as well as professional.”

A parade of Democratic lawmakers also went by to pay their respects Wednesday, including Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader; Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts; Chris Coons of Delaware and Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, as well as Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Schumer and Sanders are both alumni of James Madison High School in Brooklyn, which Ginsburg also attended.

“She was obviously an incredibly brave and brilliant woman, and she has made a mark on history,” Sanders said. “She will not be forgotten.”


Hundreds of mourners gather outside the court as the public says goodbye.

Hundreds of mourners, some of whom had traveled great distances, lined the street outside the Supreme Court to say goodbye to Ginsburg.

The wait for some visitors lasted hours, and each had their own story about the impact the justice had made on his or her life.

For Carolyn Curry Tallman, 51, who wore a mask emblazoned with Ginsburg’s face, and her friend Renee Bobbitt, 43, the justice represented a trailblazer who not only made their own careers possible but also paved a future for their daughters.

“We’re both mothers to daughters,” Curry Tallman said. “We’re here for them.”

The friends, from Merritt Island, Florida, had been lamenting the loss of Ginsburg on Tuesday when they decided to fly to Washington to honor her and booked an evening flight.

“We’re here for the history we wanted to witness,” said Curry Tallman, a compliance officer at an investment bank. “I’ve had an almost 30-year career in Wall Street, and I don’t think I would have had six months without her; I would never have gotten my foot in the door.”

For Lara Gambony, 52, and Kathleen Dungan, 57, honoring Ginsburg was a tribute to their mothers.

“It’s not only for ourselves but for my mother’s generation,” Gambony said, holding an American flag and choking back tears. “She forced the courts to see us as human, and that we had brains and we deserve our full rights.”

The two friends drove from Grayslake, Illinois, to be at the Supreme Court early Wednesday.

“She really has helped bring women along. She’s a hero,” Dungan said. “We came out of respect and love for Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This is still our country.”

Tonya Wells, 51, in a mask with an image of the justice, flew from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, with her daughter Tuesday night to pay their respects. Choking up, Wells said that the justice’s death had prompted her own self-reflection about how to honor her legacy and spurred her to volunteer more with former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.

“I just felt the sense that I was compelled to be here,” she said. “R.B.G. is just such a representation of goodness and justice and a person who was willing to give her entire life to making things better for people.”

Her daughter Katherine Nottmeier, 17, chimed in that as a young woman, she was fearful of a Supreme Court without Ginsburg.

“It’s definitely scary,” she said. “I feel like my rights could be taken away at any point.”


Spotted in the crowd: R.B.G.’s littlest fans.

Among the crowd of mourners lined up outside the Supreme Court were some of Ginsburg’s littlest fans.

Lucille Wilson, 3, of Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, could barely walk 10 steps without someone asking for a photograph of her dressed in black as the legal titan.

“We have a book called ‘I Dissent’ that she likes to read,” said Lucille’s mother, Meghann Wilson, 38. “All day she keeps saying, ‘I look just like Ruth in the book.’”

After Ginsburg’s death, Wilson said, “my daughter’s future is in the forefront of our minds.”

“You always want more for your children than you had, right? So I want my daughter to be able to do more and achieve more,” Wilson added.

Not far away in line was Cristina DiPiazza, 38, a social worker who drove from Pittsburgh with her daughter, Frankie Frezzell, 2, who was also dressed up as the justice.

Frankie was Ginsburg for Halloween last year, a costume that DiPiazza said she chose to instill in her powerful female role models.

Although her daughter might not remember the day, DiPiazza said she planned to take photographs so that she could ask questions about the trip.

To DiPiazza, Ginsburg represented intelligence and femininity — and “not letting the world hold those things against her.”

“Those are things that are important for me for my daughter,” she said.


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