Supreme Court Review 2016/2017 TERM
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2017

THE JUSTICES OF THE UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT

They are called "Justices" not "Judges" to differentiate themselves from lower court judges

In June of 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Clinton to replace retiring justice Byron White. President Clinton said he wanted someone in the position who had a "big heart." Ginsburg was the second woman to sit on the high court and the first Jewish woman to hold the position. While leaning toward the liberal side of the spectrum, Ginsburg has not hesitated to vote with her conservative colleagues.

Justice Ginsburg brought with her to the court twenty-years of experience in teaching and civil rights litigation. In her acceptance speech, Ginsburg praised the women's movement for helping make it possible for women like her to reach such high positions.

Life Before the Court
Ruth Joan Bader was born on March 15, 1933, to a father who worked making fur hats and coats and a stay-at-home mother. Her lineage stems from Eastern Europe, and her maternal and paternal grandparents immigrated to the United States for freedom of religion. Ruth grew up in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn, NY. Her childhood nickname was "Kiki." She was the second of two daughters, but her older sister died of meningitis when Ruth was very young. In elementary school, at P.S. 238, Ruth wrote an editorial in the school newspaper entitled Landmarks of Constitutional Freedom. Her mother, who had a love of language and books, often brought Ruth to the library as a child to explore, instilling a love of learning in her daughter.

In high school, Ruth was editor of her high school newspaper, a member of ARISTA (the New York version of the National Honor Society), played the cello in the school orchestra, and was a cheerleader and baton twirler. The day before she was to make her mother proud and graduate from high school with high marks (finishing sixth in her class), her mother passed away (after a struggle with cancer). Her mother had saved $8,000 for her daughter's college education, but Ruth had received enough in scholarships that she could afford to give much of the money to her father. Ruth's mother did not attend college herself, but instead worked in a garment factory to help her family pay for her brother's college education.

Ruth went on to earn a B.A. in government from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. At Cornell, Ginsburg studied under a political science professor Robert E. Cushman, who she credits with first inspiring her to pursue a legal career. She also studied European literature her freshman year under the instruction of the famed author Vladimir Nabokov. During her freshman year she met her future husband, Martin David Ginsburg, who was a year ahead of her at Cornell. After graduation, in 1954, she married Martin. At the time, Martin had completed his first year at Harvard Law School. The same year the couple was married Martin was drafted for military service and the couple moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for two years.

After arriving in Fort Sill, Ginsburg applied for a position with the local social security office. Shortly afterward, when she informed her superior that she was pregnant, she was demoted three levels in pay. In 1955, Ginsburg gave birth to her first daughter, Jane, who is now a full-time professor of law at Columbia Law School, specializing in intellectual property law. After Martin finished serving in the military, the couple moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts and they both enrolled in Harvard Law School (Martin began where he left off as a second year student).

Ginsburg was accepted into Harvard Law with the first class that included women. In a class of nearly five hundred students, only nine were women. At Harvard, women were not welcomed with open arms. Some rooms at the library were closed to women and some professors called on women students purely for comical purposes. At a dinner held for the women, Dean Erwin Griswold asked the women what it felt like to occupy places that could have gone to deserving men. Ginsburg, nevertheless, persevered and at the end of her first year she became a member of the Harvard Law Review.

During her second year in law school, her husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer, requiring extensive care. Ginsburg attended her husband's classes, taking copious notes and transcribed papers he dictated to her. Her husband eventually recovered and graduated from Harvard Law School. When her husband obtained a job in Manhattan, Ginsburg transferred to Columbia Law School where she finished her law degree and tied for valedictorian of her class.

Yet, even with her exemplary credentials and a law degree, she was unable to get the job she wanted - a clerkship at the U.S. Supreme Court. She was turned away from many jobs because she was a woman, a mother, and Jewish. Professor Albert Sacks of Harvard Law School (later Dean) called Justice Felix Frankfurter to recommend her as a law clerk, but Justice Frankfurter responded that he was not ready to take on a female clerk. "Not a single law firm in the entire city of New York," she said, offered her a position. Eventually, she acquired a position as a legal secretary. Finally, a Professor at Columbia, Gerald Gunther, scored Ginsburg a clerkship with a Southern District of New York federal court judge, Edward L. Palmieri. Ginsburg later said that Gunther "got me my clerkship by pressuring every judge in the Southern District" and had to promise the judge that "'if I didn't work out, he would find a male lawyer to replace me."

After her clerkship with Judge Palmieri, law firms were willing to hire Ginsburg (be it at a lower salary), but she decided instead to join the Columbia Project on International Civil Procedure, which was a project financed by the Carnegie Foundation to conduct research on foreign civil procedure and propose rules on transnational litigation for the United States. Ginsburg traveled to Sweden, learned Swedish and wrote a book with a Swedish judge on Swedish Civil Procedure. She was later honored for her work with an honorary doctorate from the University of Lund.

After her work with the Columbia Project, the head of the project attempted to have her admitted to the Columbia Law School faculty, but she was refused. Instead, a professor helped her obtain a position at Rutgers Law School, which hired women. Ginsburg taught at Rutgers from 1963 to 1972. A year into her job at Rutgers, Ginsburg became pregnant with her second child, a son, James, who today is a classical music producer in Chicago. Ginsburg remembers that when she was pregnant with James she concealed her pregnancy for a long while by wearing loose-fitting clothing for fear that she would lose her job if she was found out.

While at Rutgers, after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New Jersey chapter of the ACLU began receiving sex discrimination complaints and decided to refer them to Ginsburg, because, she said, "sex discrimination was regarded as a woman's job." In 1971, she was the principal author of the brief in Reed v. Reed that argued that the Supreme Court, for the first time, should declare a state statute unconstitutional for discriminating on the basis of sex. Although Ginsburg was not chosen to argue the case before the Court later that same year, the Supreme Court agreed with the arguments set forth in Ginsburg's brief and struck down an Idaho statute which stated that "males must be preferred to females" in designating persons to administer the estate of one who dies intestate. After Reed, the ACLU decided to establish a Women's Rights Project and made Ginsburg its co-director.

In 1972, Columbia Law School made Ginsburg the first tenured female faculty member in its history.

In 1973, Ginsburg was asked to join the Board of Directors of the ACLU and became the organization's General Counsel. During the 1970s, Ginsburg argued seven equal protection cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and she won five of them. One of Ginsburg's favored tactics was to argue on behalf of men against policies that gave advantages to women. For example, she represented a man in challenging an Oklahoma law that allowed women to buy alcohol at age eighteen, but forbade men from buying alcohol until the age of twenty-one–Ginsburg won the case.

In 1980 President Jimmy Carter appointed Ginsburg to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Over the years, Ginsburg developed a reputation for being strong, but fair. She remained in this position for thirteen years, until President Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court. President Clinton was moved to tears as he described Ginsburg to the press as a person who "repeatedly stood for the individual, the person less well-off, the outsider in society, and has given those people greater hope by telling them that they have a place in our legal system."

Ginsburg's Jurisprudence

Lone Dissents
On the bench, Justice Ginsburg has been one of the Court's most prolific writers. She is regarded as a steadfast protector of women's rights and the rights of the unpopular and disfavored. Justice Ginsburg is not dissuaded from expressing her dissenting views, even when she is alone in her opinions. Indeed, Justice Ginsburg is more frequently a lone dissenter than any other justice on the court save Justice Scalia.

In January 2012, Justice Ginsburg issued a lone dissent in CompuCredit v. Greenwood. CompuCredit had marketed a subprime credit card under the brand name Aspire Visa to consumers with low or weak credit scores through massive direct-mail solicitations and over the internet. The cards were issued by Columbus Bank and Trust and were advertised as having "no deposit required" and that consumers would immediately receive $300 in available credit when they received the card. In fact, however, CompuCredit and Columbus Bank and Trust charged a $29 finance charge, a monthly $6.50 account maintenance fee, and a $150 annual fee - all of which was assessed immediately against the $300 limit. All of the fees were buried in the fine print and were not closely linked to the broad statements of "no deposit required" and $300 in immediate credit. Consumers who had applied for and received the card brought a class action suit in federal court against the Credit Providers—CompuCredit and Columbus Bank and Trust—for deceptive practices.

The Credit Providers, however, pointed to a provision of the their credit card agreements with consumers that required consumers to proceed by arbitration and prohibited class action arbitration, meaning that consumers would have to sue individually. By forcing individuals into arbitration and prohibiting class action arbitrations, the credit card companies ensured that the potential liability from consumer actions would be greatly reduced and consumers would be less inclined to proceed with their claims. The consumers countered, however, that a federal law, the Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA), which protected consumers against unfair and deceptive practices by certain credit card issuers gave consumers "a right to sue a credit repair organization" under the act for deceptive practices.  The Supreme Court in an 8-1 decision sided with the Credit Providers and held that the "right to sue" language in the statute did not work to abrogate arbitration agreements in consumer contracts. The Court following prior precedent held that if Congress wanted to permit consumers to avoid arbitration agreements it had to explicitly say so.

Justice Ginsburg, the only justice to dissent in the case, explained that the "right to sue" language was contained in a disclosure that credit repair organizations were required by the Act to provide to consumers. As such, the language was written to be understood by vulnerable consumers whom Congress was seeking to protect. Justice Ginsburg argued that the average person who thought they had a "right to sue" would interpret that to mean in a court of law, not before an arbitrator pursuant to the fine print of a contract for service that they signed with the very credit repair organizations the Act was designed to regulate. Justice Ginsburg writes, "The Court's interpretation, however, enables the very deception Congress sought to suppress. Today's decision permits credit repair organizations to deny consumers, through fine print in a contract, an important right whose disclosure is decreed in the U. S. Code."

She also issued a lone dissent in Kentucky v. King (2011), wherein the other eight justices held that police without a warrant may bang loudly on a door and announce themselves and then if they hear sounds consistent with evidence destruction may enter the home and conduct a search under the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrants requirement.

In King, the police set up a controlled buy of crack cocaine outside an apartment complex. After the deal occurred, an undercover officer who watched from an unmarked car across the street ordered two uniformed police officers to move in on the suspect who was moving quickly through the breezeway of an apartment complex. When the officers arrived in the breezeway they heard a door slam. At the end of the hall they found two doors, one on the left and one on the right. Since their radios were in their car they did not hear the undercover officers tell them that the suspect appeared to enter the door on the right. The two officers smelling marijuana emanating from the door on the left, however, approached the door and knocked loudly, announcing themselves. When they heard the occupants shuffling around and sounds of items being moved around in the apartment, they announced that they were entering the apartment and kicked the door in. They found Hollis King, his girlfriend, and a guest smoking pot. After a search, they also found other drugs and drug paraphernalia. King moved to suppress the evidence arguing that police could not use the exigent circumstances exception here to justify their warrantless entry because they themselves created the exigency by banging on the wrong door.

Justice Alito in his majority opinion explained that while the exigent circumstances requirement does not apply where police are responsible for creating the exigency by engaging or threatening to engage in conduct that violates the Fourth Amendment, the police here did not violate the Fourth Amendment by knocking on the door and announcing themselves since those acts were merely good law enforcement practices.

Justice Ginsburg in her lone dissent laments, "The Court today arms the police with a way routinely to dishonor the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement in drug cases. In lieu of presenting their evidence to a neutral magistrate, police officers may now knock, listen, then break the door down, nevermind that they had ample time to obtain a warrant." To satisfy the exigent circumstances exception, she stated, the exigency should exist when the police come on the scene, not subsequent to their arrival, prompted by their own conduct. Furthermore, Ginsburg argued, "There was little risk that drug-related evidence would have been destroyed had the police delayed the search pending a magistrate's authorization." Justice Ginsburg went on to conclude, "In no quarter does the Fourth Amendment apply with greater force than in our homes, our most private space which, for centuries, has been regarded as 'entitled to special protection' . . . . 'If the officers in this case were excused from the constitutional duty of presenting their evidence to a magistrate, it is difficult to think of [any] case in which [a warrant] should be required.'"

Notable Four-Justice Dissents
The great majority of Justice Ginsburg's dissents are those that the other justices are eager to join.

Ginsburg authored the four-justice dissenting opinion in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. In Ledbetter, a female employee of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant in Gadsden, Alabama, sued the company for pay discrimination based on her sex. Lilly Ledbetter worked at Goodyear from 1979 until her retirement in 1998. For most of those years, she worked as an area manager, a position largely occupied by men. Initially, Ledbetter's salary was in line with the salaries of men performing substantially similar work. Over time, however, her pay slipped in comparison to the pay of male area managers with equal or less seniority. By the end of 1997, Ledbetter was the only woman working as an area manager and the pay discrepancy between Ledbetter and her 15 male counterparts was stark: Ledbetter was paid $3,727 per month; the lowest paid male area manager received $4,286 per month, the highest paid, $5,236.

Ledbetter's charge of pay discrimination was tried before a jury which found it "more likely than not that [Goodyear] paid [Ledbetter] a[n] unequal salary because of her sex." On appeal, however, the Eleventh Circuit reversed, and a majority of the Supreme Court agreed, that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Ledbetter had to have filed her claim 180 days "after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred." While Ledbetter had proved at trial, that within the 180-day period, her pay was substantially less than the pay of men doing the same work (each pay check represented such as act), she could not prove discriminatory intent because she did not file charges within 180 days of the company's decision to refuse her a pay increase.

Justice Ginsburg joined by justices Stevens, Souter and Breyer in dissent explained that, in interpreting the 180 day requirement in this way, the Court overlooked common characteristics of pay discrimination claims: (1) that pay discrimination often occurs in small increments and over a long time, (2) that the salaries of other employees are often not disclosed, (3) the reasons for pay differentials are similarly hidden, and (4) disputing small discrepancies are often seen as not worth it to those trying to succeed in a nontraditional environment. Justice Ginsburg argued: "It is only when the disparity becomes apparent and sizable, e.g., through future raises calculated as a percentage of current salaries, that an employee in Ledbetter's situation is likely to comprehend her plight and, therefore, to complain."

On January 29, 2009, two years after the Ledbetter case was decided, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 into law. The Act amended the 180-day statute of limitations to reset with each new discriminatory paycheck.

Justice Ginsburg also authored the four justice dissent in Ricci v. DeStefano (2009), a case addressing an exam for firefighters in New Haven, CT, the purpose of which was to identify those firefighters best qualified for promotion. The pass rate for minority candidates taking the exam was half the rate for nonminority candidates, and virtually no minority candidates would have been eligible for promotion had the exam results been certified. While African-Americans constituted 30 percent of the City's firefighters and Hispanics accounted for 16 percent, only nine percent of the senior ranks were African-American and nine percent Hispanic. The New Haven Civil Service Board (the CSB) refused to certify the test results believing they violated federal law—Title VII of the Civil Rights Act—which prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on race. Seventeen white firefighters and one Hispanic firefighter who passed the examinations, but were denied a chance at promotions when the CSB refused to certify the test results, sued the City and others. On June 29, 2009, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case. In a 5-4 majority opinion, authored by Justice Kennedy, and joined by justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito, the court held that unless there was a strong-basis-in-evidence that the underlying test evidenced a discriminatory purpose that was not job related nor consistent with business necessity and that an alternative practice existed that has a less disparate impact and serves the employer's legitimate needs, the fact of a test whose results are racially disparate is not alone enough to establish a claim under Title VII. The Court found the City and the other defendants could not meet this strong-basis-in-evidence standard.

Justice Ginsburg authored the dissenting opinion joined by Justices Stevens, Souter and Breyer. She began her opinion by declaring, "In assessing claims of race discrimination, context matters." She explained that at the time the Civil Rights Act was passed, municipal fire departments across the country, including New Haven's, pervasively discriminated against minorities. And that "[f]irefighting is a profession in which the legacy of racial discrimination casts an especially long shadow." In making hiring and promotion decision in the past, "public employers often 'rel[ied] on criteria unrelated to job performance,' including nepotism or political patronage." Justice Ginsburg explains that a majority of the minority applicants were first-generation firefighters who had to invest substantial sums to purchase the exam materials and waited "a month and a half for some of the books because they were on back-order," whereas many of the Caucasian applicants could obtain materials and assistance from relatives in the fire service. Even so, Justice Ginsburg continued, there were significant non-race related flaws in the examinations that the CSB also based their decision on, including that the test was a poor test of on-the-job acumen. Justice Ginsburg accuses the Court of not only ignoring these non-race related reasons but also of failing to acknowledge that tests used in other cities for promoting firefighters are not as racially skewed.

In 2012, Ginsburg also authored a four justice dissent in Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland, wherein the Court's majority affirmed a Fourth Circuit decision that a state employee in Maryland could not sue the state when it violated his rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) based on principles of sovereign immunity—even though the Court had held seven years earlier in Nevada Dept. of Human Resources v. Hibbs, in a 6-3 majority opinion authored by Chief Justice Rehnquist, that Congress could subject States to suit for violations of the FMLA. In Hibbs, then Chief Justice Rehnquist explained that Congress was acting under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which permits Congress to abrogate State sovereign immunity in order to ensure compliance with section 1 of the amendment's guarantee of "equal protection of the laws," which, in turn, has been interpreted to encompasses gender discrimination. In Hibbs, however, justices Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas dissented.

In Coleman, with the additions of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, the dissenting justices in Hibbs now found themselves in the majority. In a plurality opinion by Justice Kennedy, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and justices Thomas and Alito, the plurality limited Hibbs to the facts, holding that in order for sovereign immunity to be abrogated an individual must prove an identifiable pattern of gender-based discrimination on the part of the state employers. Justice Scalia refused to join the debate as to proper application of Hibbs and issued a separate concurring opinion arguing that Congress did not have the power to enact the FMLA since the Fourteenth Amendment does not encompass the discrimination the FMLA seeks to prevent against (i.e. gender discrimination).

In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg explains that the plurality and others ignore the purpose of the FMLA to address gender discrimination in the workplace by emphasizing that the FMLA was a gender neutral statute – giving all employees the right to self-care leave and that there was no evidence that States were applying these gender neutral laws in ways that violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Ginsburg explained, however, that this ignores findings by Congress that addressing discrimination against pregnant women by way of gender neutral statutes further protected women by countering impressions that women were being favored and, therefore, would further "reduce employers' corresponding incentive to discriminate against women in hiring and promotion." By preventing state employees to sue a state for violations under the FMLA, Ginsburg argued, the Court had diluted the Act's ability to combat gender discrimination.

Justice Ginsburg also issued an impassioned dissent in Miller v. Johnson (1995) chastising the majority for holding that a redistricting plan in Georgia based on race, which sought to address generations of discrimination against African-Americans by creating voting districts where African-Americans could elect a representative of their choosing, was unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

Ginsburg's jurisprudence also includes a consistent deference to other branches and levels of government. This is reflected in her famous dissent in the case of Bush v. Gore. Justice Ginsburg strongly disagreed with her colleagues' decision to halt the presidential election recount that was ordered by the Florida Supreme Court. She argued that long standing traditions of deference to state court interpretations of state law precluded intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court. She wrote that questions regarding the practical possibility of a timely recount should be left to state officials or Congress.

Notable Majority Opinions
As for majority opinions, Justice Ginsburg is often asked to write majority opinions on questions of complex civil procedure. On occasion, Justice Ginsburg also provides the fifth vote by siding with her more conservative colleagues on the bench.

Justice Ginsburg joined her more conservative colleagues and authored the majority opinion in Eldred v. Ashcroft (2003), upholding the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (or CTEA), which extended existing copyright terms by an additional 20 years from the terms set by the Copyright Act of 1976 (extending the general rule of the life of the author plus 50 years to the life of the author plus 70 years). The Act did not just apply to newly copyrighted works but also to existing copyrighted works. The petitioners in the case were largely comprised of publishers who had expended resources in reliance of existing copyrighted works moving into the public domain in the near future. They argued that the statute not only harmed them but would prevent works from entering the public domain and being put to new and better uses and that ensuring that decedents or assignees of authors reaped the rewards of their ancestor's ingenuity long after their death did not "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts" as the words of the Constitution require. Justice Ginsburg for the majority explained that the Constitution requires only that the time for a copyright be limited, but leaves to Congress's discretion as to how long or short that limit may be. While the petitioners' arguments may be convincing at a policy level, it was not up to the courts to second-guess congressional determinations and policy judgments, "however debatable or arguably unwise they may be."

Justice Ginsburg also wrote the majority opinion in Ring v. Arizona, which held that the Sixth Amendment's right to trial by jury required a jury determination as to the finding of aggravating factors sufficient to warrant the imposition of the death penalty, findings that previously were thought to be up to the judge. Even though Ginsburg's opinion overruled a prior Supreme Court precedent, she was joined in her opinion by liberal and conservative justices (including justices Scalia and Thomas). Only Justices O'Connor and Rehnquist, who were in the majority in the precedent that was overruled, were in dissent.

In a fitting capstone to her advocacy for gender equality, Justice Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion in United States v. Virginia, holding that Virginia acted in violation of the constitution when it refused to admit women to the Virginia Military Institute ("VMI"). Justice Ginsburg found that the state failed to provide the proper justification needed to support the gender-based government action.

Abortion
As for the topic of abortion, Justice Ginsburg has criticized the Court's 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade for taking the momentum out of a growing movement to liberalize abortion laws in the States. In the five years prior to the decision in Roe, thirteen states had voted to liberalize their abortion laws. Roe involved a Texas law that banned abortion in all cases except to save the life of the mother. The Court's ruling, however, did more than just strike down the Texas law, it invalidated laws that were more liberal than the Texas lawl. Ginsburg stated that the decision enacted a "regime blanketing the subject, a set of rules that displaced virtually every state law then in force." Ginsburg has noted that she favors a more incremental approach to constitutional developments ("She's a common law constitutionalist" as Steven Calabresi put it). Nevertheless, Justice Ginsburg has been a staunch protector of abortion rights. She voted to strike down a Nebraska partial-birth abortion law in the 2000 case of Stenberg v. Carhart, but found herself in the minority three years later (after Justice O'Connor's resignation) in the 2003 case of Gonzales v. Carhart. In Gonzales, Justice Kennedy authored a 5-4 majority opinion, joined by Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito upholding a Federal ban on partial-birth abortions on the grounds that the intact dilation and extraction procedure banned by the law is never needed to protect the health of a pregnant woman and, therefore, that the health exception required by Stenberg was unnecessary.

Justice Ginsburg authored one of her most strongly worded dissents in Gonzales v. Carhart, joined by justices Stevens, Souter and Breyer. She began, "Today's decision is alarming. It refuses to take Casey and Stenberg seriously. It tolerates, indeed applauds, federal intervention to ban nationwide a procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. It blurs the line, firmly drawn in Casey, between previability and postviability abortions. And, for the first time since Roe, the Court blesses a prohibition with no exception safeguarding a woman's health."

Off the Bench
On June 23, 2010 Justice Ginsburg and her husband, Martin Ginsburg, celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary. It was a bittersweet celebration as Martin Ginsburg was on his deathbed and would die 5 days later from cancer.

Justice Ginsburg has struggled with health complications herself in more recent years. In 1999, she was diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent surgery and chemotherapy. During this period she did not miss a single day on the bench. In 2009, she again underwent surgery, this time related to pancreatic cancer. The tumor was discovered at an early stage. She again did not miss a single day of oral arguments. In September 2009, she was hospitalized for lightheadedness, but was treated for apparent iron deficiency and released the next day.

It is reported that Justice Ginsburg and Justice Scalia are close friends and their families often dine together. Scalia and Ginsburg share a love of opera, both grew up in New York City and are close in age (Justice Ginsburg is three years older than Justice Scalia). When Justice Stevens retired in 2010, Justice Ginsburg became the oldest justice on the Court.

Justice Ginsburg often meets with young lawyers and attends speaking engagements. In February 2012, she traveled to Egypt and Tunisia. At an event with Egyptian judges and legal experts, Ginsburg was asked what Egypt should consider in drafting a constitution. She responded: "Let me say first: A constitution, as important as it is, will mean nothing unless the people are yearning for liberty and freedom. If the people don't care then the best constitution in the world won't make any difference." As for whether Egypt should base its constitution on the U.S. Constitution, Ginsburg said:

I would not look to the U.S. Constitution, if I were drafting a Constitution in the year 2012. I might look at the Constitution of South Africa. That was a deliberate attempt to have a fundamental instrument of government that embraced basic human rights, had an independent judiciary. It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done. Much more recently than the U.S. Constitution, Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms based from 1982. You would almost certainly look at the European Convention on Human Rights. . . . I am a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.

She explained that the United States Constitution, which was drafted by the best minds of a generation hundreds of years ago, did not permit women, American Indians and slaves to participate in the drafting of the Constitution. But, she said, one of the most enduring aspects of the U.S. Constitution was that it was written in general terms and that its first three words were "We the people." Only later, she explained, was the U.S. Constitution interpreted to embrace a larger and more diverse constituency.