Justice Ginsburg Visits the University at Buffalo on My First Day of Law School

“I had an idea that being a lawyer was a pretty nifty thing to do.” – Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

IPWatchdog mourns the loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died September 18, 2020. Ginsburg was a trailblazer in every sense and an inspiration to many. Steve Brachmann last year saw Ginsburg speak at the University at Buffalo School of Law, and shared her remarks below. RIP “Notorious RBG.”

A little more than two years ago, I made the decision to go to law school. Many factors went into this decision but suffice it to say that my work with IPWatchdog and encouragement from both Gene and Renee Quinn played a major role in choosing this course. This spring, I was accepted into the University at Buffalo School of Law and, with the second week of classes about to begin, I find myself very busy with the job of cramming basic concepts in torts, contracts and civil procedure into my brain.

Monday, August 26 was to be the first day of classes at UB Law, but courses were cancelled for a momentous occasion. That day, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg visited the campus to give a talk at UB’s Center for the Arts and receive a State University of New York (SUNY) honorary degree. The event came a mere three days after the Supreme Court announced that Justice Ginsburg had just finished a three-week course of radiation therapy to treat a tumor. The Supreme Court Justice, however, gave very little indication that she had just undergone major medical treatment, handling both her address and a one-hour lecture with UB Law students with great aplomb. The day’s events did not include any information on intellectual property but it did offer various insights on Justice Ginsburg’s career and the upcoming Supreme Court term.

Justice Ginsburg’s Address and Q&A with Dean Abramovsky

At the top of her remarks, Justice Ginsburg acknowledged the integral role played by the late Wayne Wisbaum, a member of Buffalo’s legal community and a friend of the Justice from her days at Cornell University, in securing her visit to the University at Buffalo. She also discussed her great popularity with a generation of Americans much younger than herself. “It was beyond my wildest expectations that I would one day become ‘the Notorious RBG,’” Justice Ginsburg said, adding that, if she was notorious, it was only because she had the good fortune to be alive and a lawyer in the late 1960s and the 1970s. This period marked the first time in history that it became possible to argue that women were persons who were equal in stature to men, she said, a legal development that would be central to her own career.

Following her remarks, Justice Ginsburg sat down for a question-and-answer session with Aviva Abramovsky, Dean of the UB School of Law. Dean Abramovsky asked Justice Ginsburg how she first became interested in pursuing a law career. Justice Ginsburg credited the influence of Robert Cushman, a government professor of hers at Cornell when she attended in the early 1950s. “Professor Cushman impressed upon me that the country was being strained from its deepest values,” Justice Ginsburg said, discussing the effects that McCarthyism was having on the nation at that time. “I had an idea that being a lawyer was a pretty nifty thing to do,” she added, as it would allow her to earn a living while working to make society better. Further, she added that she and her late husband Martin Ginsburg had decided to pursue similar career paths and they had already ruled out medical school, as afternoon labs would have interfered with Martin’s golf practices.

While discussing key moments in her past, the Justice recalled the Supreme Court’s 1996 decision in United States v. Virginia, which allowed women to enroll in the Virginia Military Institute. Justice Ginsburg, who wrote the majority opinion in that case, said that one of the brightest days in her career was 21 years after the decision came out, when she visited the school and spoke to a commander who was exuberant about the female cadets at the school. Prior to the Virginia decision, Justice Ginsburg was approached by her colleague, Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the dissent in that case. Justice Scalia presented Justice Ginsburg with the penultimate version of his draft, which he said wasn’t ready to distribute to the rest of the Court but he wanted Justice Ginsburg to have time to read prior to the decision being published. Justice Ginsburg first opened the dissent while she was flying to the Second Circuit in New York City, where she was scheduled to sit by designation, and she jokingly said that reading Justice Scalia’s dissent “ruined [her] weekend.” Justice Ginsburg also discussed her friendship with Justice Scalia despite their ideological differences, noting that both of them cared deeply about their families and shared a great passion for the opera. “He was the only one of my colleagues who could carry a tune,” Justice Ginsburg said.

Justice Ginsburg Presents a Lecture to UB Law Students

Following Justice Ginsburg’s remarks at UB’s Center for the Arts, she was taken over to O’Brian Hall where she gave a one-hour lecture that included information about cases that the Supreme Court would be hearing when its next term begins this October. Important cases highlighted by Justice Ginsburg included New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York, which asks whether New York City’s ban on transporting a licensed, locked and unloaded handgun to a home or shooting range outside of the city’s limits is consistent with the Second Amendment, the commerce clause and the constitutional right to travel; Mathena v. Malvo, a case involving one of the murderers from the 2002 Beltway sniper shootings, which asks whether the Fourth Circuit erred in interpreting Supreme Court decisions on the retroactive applicability of changes to rules regarding juvenile criminal sentencing; and Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, which asks whether the prohibition in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against employment discrimination “because of… sex” encompasses discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation. On the IP side of course, the Court is set to hear two trademark cases, two patent cases and one copyright case, and will consider cert in a number of others.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of the lucky lottery winners who got to actually sit in the room with Justice Ginsburg and ask questions but having a Supreme Court Justice visit on the first day that your law school career begins is a rather auspicious start. Though my byline may be appearing a little less often on the pages of this blog, which has been instrumental in directing me to this point of my life, I’m looking forward to this new chapter and hopefully a career in the legal profession. Assuming I get my reading assignments done on time, of course.


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Join the Discussion

2 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for BP]
    September 9, 2019 08:20 am

    Best of luck in law school! Another indication that IPWD is in a continuous mode of improvement. RBG fought against a monopoly of men, now it’s time she fights against the monopolies destroying free speech, democracy and our patent system. The SCt’s hands have simply replaced one ruling class with another. Is that justice?

  • [Avatar for Bemused]
    September 5, 2019 03:38 am

    Steve, best of luck to you in law school! I have no doubt that one day we’ll be reading about your patent cases (representing patent owners, of course!) on IP Watchdog!