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Cornell University School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions


Cornell in Washington students visit the Supreme Court and meet Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

by Rebecca Saber, CIW student, fall 2016,
School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions, November 30, 2016

A visit to the U.S. Supreme Court is a regular feature of the fall and spring programs at Cornell in Washington (CIW). Following is a description of this semester's visit on November 7, 2016, by CIW student Rebecca Saber (standing to the right of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the photo).

She entered the Court Chamber slowly, behind the others, making her way to the large black chair that enveloped her. I strained my neck as much as I could to catch a glimpse of this spectacular woman before she sat down. There she was, in person, about twenty rows away from me: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

This description of my first glance of this truly incredible woman may seem like a hyperbole; however, I can assure you that it is not. I was awestruck and so incredibly overwhelmed and grateful to be in the presence of such brilliant and powerful people.

While listening to the justices grill two lawyers about a case I did not really understand, I learned how stylistically diverse our Supreme Court is. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito leaned back in their thrones, closing their eyes and listening. Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan crafted hypothetical scenarios to question the lawyers. Justice Ginsburg sat, listening, and to me it seemed like she knew exactly how she was going to point out the flaw in the argument and how she was going to help the lawyer figure out what he actually was trying to argue. She grilled, while subtly coaching—the signs of a true teacher.

Later that day, we had a private meeting with Justice Ginsburg. For weeks before meeting her, I wrote down questions to ask her. I scrapped all of them; they were too obvious, too unintelligent, too easy to answer. I wanted to ask her a question I would not be able to find the answer to in a book.

I have no memory of what I actually asked since that was a blur; however, it had something to do with feminism and sexism. Luckily, Justice Ginsburg called on me first so I did not have time to be nervous.

In response to my question, Justice Ginsburg explained the differences between contemporary sexism and the sexism she encountered in her youth, emphasizing that sexism used to be much more overt. Now it is concealed yet still extremely prevalent. She added that she would like every job interview to resemble auditions for the symphony. Each musician auditions by walking in barefoot, standing behind a curtain, and playing his or her instrument. Nothing matters but the skill of the musician.

When I was in fifth grade, Justice Ginsburg spoke at an assembly at my school. Her granddaughter was a senior at the time, and when she introduced her grandmother to our school, I did not really understand the gravity of the situation. This time, I knew exactly what was happening. Rarely does one get the opportunity to meet and speak with someone who changed the world for the better. Justice Ginsburg has worked her whole life for gender equality, and she is one of the people I look up to and admire wholeheartedly.

Right before Justice Ginsburg slipped out of the room, Professor Silbey asked her if she would be willing to have her photo taken with us. The moment she agreed, I ran, pushing everyone out of my way (sorry!) so that I could stand next to her. That was an experience I will remember (and of which I have photographic evidence) for the rest of my life.