Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg discusses career, life during talk at UC Berkeley

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Almost 2,000 people gave a standing ovation when U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg walked on and offstage for the first annual Herma Hill Kay Memorial Lecture put on by the UC Berkeley School of Law on Monday.

The lecture commemorated former Berkeley Law dean Herma Hill Kay, who was the second woman on the school’s faculty and its first female dean, after her death in 2017. According to Berkeley Law dean Erwin Chemerinsky, the idea for the lecture series came from campus professor of law and information Pamela Samuelson. Chemerinsky also said Samuelson and her husband gave a large monetary contribution to the series.

“I saw (Kay) shatter barriers in both the legal world and at Berkeley,” said Chancellor Carol Christ at the event. “She has herself opened doors for women that have ultimately been shut.”

Legal studies students, Berkeley Law alumni and campus officials, including UCPD Chief Margo Bennett and Christ, were all invited to the event, which was closed to the public. The talk was also livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube.

Ginsburg, the series’ first guest, knew Kay and authored a book with her, according to Christ. Kay, who Ginsburg described as her “dear friend,” also won the 2015 Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award, which honors leaders and trailblazers in legal education, according to the Association of American Law Schools’ website.

Campus law professor Amanda Tyler, who once was a legal clerk for Ginsburg, moderated the conversation, leading Ginsburg through many aspects of her life from childhood to her tenure on the Supreme Court.

She started the discussion with questions about the justice’s recent bout with cancer, as well as her workout routine, which has garnered the 86-year-old a lot of attention.

“Compared to how I was six months ago, (I’m doing) very well,” Ginsburg said at the event. “If you have survived cancer, you have a zest for life that you didn’t have before. You count each day as a blessing.”

Ginsburg discussed the process she and her late husband Martin Ginsburg used to determine what their future career paths would be — which essentially amounted to a process of elimination between a medical field, legal field and business field.

She also discussed her work ethic, how she got through college and her experiences finding work in a field that was hesitant to employ women, including a story in which one of her professors essentially threatened an employer to get her a job.

She ended by discussing her tenure on the Supreme Court.

“The huge challenge was to get your foot in the door,” Ginsburg said at the event. “Suppose (former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Sandra Day O’Connor) and I had gone to law school in the days when there was no barrier to women … Now we would be retired partners from some large law firm. But, because we didn’t have that path available to us … we both ended up on the Supreme Court.”

Kate Finman is the lead student government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.