Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg looked out at the first year law class she was about to address at Georgetown Law on Wednesday and smiled broadly after being told the majority of the class were women.
“To look out a class like this is exhilarating,” the 84-year-old justice said. Ginsburg graduated from Columbia 58 years ago and there were only nine female students in her entering class. She would go on, as a young lawyer, to blaze new trails in the field for gender equality.
The moderator of Wednesday’s event – law dean William Treanor – asked Ginsburg how she chose her early career path.
She rephrased his question.
“How did I decide to become a flaming feminist litigator?” she asked.
The audience, including President Donald Trump’s daughter Tiffany, who is a first-year student at the school, burst into laughter.
Ginsburg went on to speak broadly about her experience as an ACLU lawyer in the 1970s, important cases from last term, and gave a brief preview of the upcoming term that includes cases concerning the travel ban, religious liberty, voting rights and cell phone privacy.
With the relatively new addition of conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, the court is likely to be closely divided on some of those hot-button cases.
“There is only one prediction that is entirely safe about the upcoming term, and that is it will be momentous,” she said.
A year ago, Ginsburg, like many in the country, thought the Supreme Court was on the verge of making a hard left turn.
Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat was still vacant but many people thought Hillary Clinton was set to win the election and would nominate a judge who would move the court to the left.
That would have meant that Ginsburg – nominated in 1993 by President Bill Clinton – would lead the charge on issues including abortion, voting rights and campaign finance.
But that was not to be. A newly inaugurated Trump nominated Gorsuch. After a contentious confirmation battle, Gorsuch took the bench in April to hear the remaining 13 cases of the term. And Ginsburg quickly delivered her verdict.
“I imagine that when you compare how I vote and he votes, it will be just the same as it was when you compared me to Justice Scalia,” she said in May.
She was right. It’s too early to tell the story of Gorsuch’s impact on the court. But so far, he has aligned himself with the conservative side of the bench.
For most of last term, the court issued narrow decisions at times in an effort to avoid 4-4 splits.
This term, the court is full strength. Already, justices responded to an emergency request earlier this month in a case concerning redistricting in Texas with a 5-4 order. That split could portend more to come.
Wednesday, Ginsburg did not emphasize contentious cases that grab the public’s attention, but instead noted that the court is often unanimous in cases the public does not follow.
She also had kind words for Gorsuch, saying that he has “cast himself as a potential rival to Justice Sonia Sotomayor as the justice who asked the most questions.”
With the court’s term beginning next month, Ginsburg shows no signs of slowing down.
This fall, her personal trainer is set to release a book – the RBG Workout – outlining her fitness regime. Publicity materials include illustrations of Ginsburg wearing a “super Diva” T-shirt doing front and side planks. “Justice Ginsburg upped the ante by doing her front plank in a full push-up position, with her hands on the ground,” wrote Bryant Johnson.
Treanor asked her Wednesday night if she used her knees when she did her push ups. She paused a moment and looked horrified. “No,” she responded, incredulous at the question.