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December 9, 2020

Thoughts and Reflections on Ruth Bader Ginsburg

After the passing of iconic feminist activist Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Barclay Damon Women’s Forum asked our women attorneys for their reflections on RBG’s life and legacy. 

What did Ruth Bader Ginsburg mean to you?

  • She was an inspiration to me. Her advocacy had a direct impact on me as a high school gymnast. I directly benefited from Title IX, which prohibited sex discrimination in education programs (including women's sports programs that finally received equal funding), so I was able to compete on my high school gymnastics team as well as with a private club. - Lisa Arrington, Partner, Rochester
  • She as an awesome fighter for what she believed in, and was not afraid of the consequences of her decisions. - Victoria D’Angelo, Special Counsel, Buffalo
  • In 1971, Justice Ginsburg paid credit to a Black queer civil rights attorney, Pauli Murray, in the Reed v. Reed case. This was unheard of at the time. Her ethics were irreproachable. She is someone to emulate. - Sheila Gaddis, Partner, Rochester
  • A role model and an inspiration. - Susan Schultz Laluk, Partner, Rochester
  • She was an inspiration as a brilliant lawyer and justice. She is the reason we have made progress in civil rights ”on the basis of sex.” - Penny Mason, Of Counsel, New Haven
  • Justice Ginsburg stood up for women at every opportunity—from arguing cases of sex discrimination as a young attorney, to being a working professional while juggling the demands of being a wife and mother, to being a strong and reasoned voice on the Supreme Court. When I heard she passed, the loss I felt was palpable. Because of her, women in this country have more opportunities—but there is still so much work to be done. I hope we all can continue forward on the path that RBG laid for us toward the equal citizenship status of men and women in this country. - Courtney Merriman, Partner, Syracuse
  • I had been practicing just a few years when RBG was appointed to the Supreme Court, and as a young woman litigator in NYC, she was very much a hero. - Margaret Surowka, Counsel, Albany
  • A pioneer, advocate, and woman of strength and grace. - Genevieve Trigg, Special Counsel, Albany
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a pioneer, not just in the law, but for pushing forward the initiative on civil rights all across the board. For me, she was a role model not just as an attorney and judge but as a crusader fighting for equality. She has been described by many as a rule breaker, but after learning about her landmark cases both as an advocate and jurist, it is clear she was a rule maker, in the best sense of the word. - Elizabeth Vulaj, Associate, New York City

How have you been inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsburg? What actions did you take based on that inspiration?

  • Her life’s work proved that determination and perseverance to change the law can usher in changes in behavior and expectations that in turn change peoples’ daily lives for the better. - Lisa Arrington, Partner, Rochester
  • She reminds all women attorneys that they should speak up for what they believe in. - Victoria D’Angelo, Special Counsel, Clarence
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an inspiration for women like myself, who fiercely advocate for the rights of women and for gender equality. She inspires me to be courageous. - Sheila Gaddis, Partner, Rochester
  • She has inspired me to fight for justice for ALL people. I have been phone banking to register voters and get out the vote. - Susan Schultz Laluk, Partner, Rochester
  • One way in which she inspired me was with her regular, vigorous workout regimen! - Penny Mason, Of Counsel, New Haven
  • Justice Ginsburg’s remarkable legal mind is undisputed and certainly the source of much inspiration, but for me, I found her perseverance, poise, grace, and humility to be particularly impactful. She was one of only eight women in her law school class of more than 500 men. Just imagine that for a moment. The self-assurance and strength it must have taken each day to stake your spot in that environment. Even on the most divisive issues, she stay composed and reasoned. She listened and then wrote or spoke with such care that people were forced to pay attention and take note. She was small, but mighty. - Courtney Merriman, Partner, Syracuse
  • RBG inspired me by the way she affected change. She was not bombastic. She was a role model for me to show that that kind of litigation style could be effective and successful. She was passionate, but always modeled her arguments on sound legal reasoning and progression in the law. I have used her style in teaching my own children that change, even dramatic change, can be done in a gentle, methodical manner inside the existing framework. - Margaret Surowka, Counsel, Albany
  • I have been inspired by the fact that she was just one of very few women in a class of over 500 students during her time at Harvard Law and, even though she encountered obstacles at many points in her studies and career, and she lived in an era in which women faced many more difficulties than we do now, she never wavered. And once she achieved success for herself, she found a way to use her power and intellect to fight so that other women could have a chance to partake in that same journey toward success. - Elizabeth Vulaj, Associate, New York City

Did you ever meet her in person or see her speak in person? If yes, where, when, and what was your most memorable takeaway? 

  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a Columbia Law School alumni and spoke to my law school class at Columbia when I was a first-year law student. She gave a very inspiring talk about what it was like to be in a law school class with only a handful of women (many of the stories she told us were depicted in the recent movie about her life). She was thrilled to see all the female law students in the class at that time. Needless to say, this was definitely a highlight of my first year in law school! - Lisa Arrington, Partner, Rochester
  • Yes, I met her at the Buffalo Club, prior to her presentation at Kleinhans Music Hall last year in Buffalo. I was honored to hear her speak to our small group at the Buffalo Club, where she answered questions freely.- Victoria D’Angelo, Special Counsel, Clarence
  • In April 2017, the NYS Diversity Coalition was admitted to the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Ginsburg met with our small group in a court conference room for 30 minutes. She talked about several of her cases and asked about our work. It was a singular privilege. - Sheila Gaddis, Partner, Rochester
  • My daughter and I were fortunate to be able to see her in person when she spoke in Buffalo in 2019. It was so wonderful to be with a group (of mostly women) who supported the same ideals as I do. - Susan Schultz Laluk, Partner, Rochester
  • I have seen her in person and heard her speak on several occasions, at American Law Institute and Federal Bar Council events. She was always funny and clever, very endearing. I attended a Federal Bar Council bench-bar week on Curaçao where she was our guest for several days. I ran into her in the resort’s spa, both of us in our robes! It was a brief encounter, but she was gracious. - Penny Mason, Of Counsel, New Haven
  • Unfortunately, no. - Courtney Merriman, Partner, Syracuse
  • I wish, but no. I was sworn into the Supreme Court with a Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York group on December 11, 2000, the day Gore v. Bush was argued. We were supposed to meet the justices that day after our swearing in but, due to the argument, that was canceled. - Margaret Surowka, Counsel, Albany

How do you feel with her passing? What is your greatest sense of loss?

  • I was deeply saddened by her passing and probably felt more emotional about the loss due to the fact that many of the rights she fought for are now being eroded. - Lisa Arrington, Partner, Rochester
  • I was devastated. She was the main person on the court to objectively decide cases without political agendas. - Victoria D’Angelo, Special Counsel, Clarence
  • My greatest sense of loss is the ideological balance on the Supreme Court. A potential conservative shift on the court has the potential to drastically alter the lives of many American citizens and roll back hard-fought gains in health care, women’s reproductive rights, and voting rights. - Sheila Gaddis, Partner, Rochester
  • It was a gut punch. Not just the loss of her as a person but also the likely loss of her Supreme Court seat. - Susan Schultz Laluk, Partner, Rochester
  • I was devastated at her passing, not only for our loss of such a great mind, but of course for what her Supreme Court vacancy during this administration would mean for our future. - Penny Mason, Of Counsel, New Haven
  • I was saddened because she tried so hard to wait out this presidency but happy that she was at rest after fighting against cancer for so long. The greatest sense of loss is her voice on the court. As soft as it was, it was equally powerful. I fear that with her death, the court itself will be less willing to engage in discussing all sides. I fear that the court has become far more politicized and polarized. - Margaret Surowka, Counsel, Albany
  • Tremendous loss to the legal community. She empowered so many and will be unreplaceable. - Genevieve Trigg, Special Counsel, Albany
  • Her passing came as sad news to me, like so many others, but I also believe her life should be celebrated, since she lived a long life well into her 80s and broke down barriers for so many groups who had been disenfranchised in society for so long. Her passing is saddening, but the legacy she left behind is inspiring, and it is up to us, as the next generation of female advocates, to ensure the kind of work she championed continues. - Elizabeth Vulaj, Associate, New York City

What actions will you now take—what will you do—to keep her legacy alive and to further her mission?

  • We will all have to make a point to focus our attention on women’s rights and women’s issues again! - Lisa Arrington, Partner, Rochester
  • I was a former part-time judge and think back to days that were tough at times, but nothing like what she has endured over her entire lifetime. I plan to continue to be as good an attorney as I can be. - Victoria D’Angelo, Special Counsel, Clarence
  • I have volunteered for the National Voter Assistance Hotline. - Susan Schultz Laluk, Partner, Rochester
  • I will share my admiration for her and her work with my grandchildren. - Penny Mason, Of Counsel, New Haven
  • Among her lasting impacts, I hope her mission to create equal citizenship status of men  and women in this country continues with pace until it is the norm. She so perfectly summarized the concept in a now famous quote that can be applied to all situations, businesses, and industries... “And when I'm sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court]? And I say when there are nine, people are shocked. But there'd been nine men, and nobody's ever raised a question about that.” - Courtney Merriman, Partner, Syracuse
  • As a woman lawyer, I think it is important to share her legacy. When I was a new litigator in NYC, there were some who said I was too nice to be a litigator. But my mentor in NYC, who was the head of litigation, told me that the best litigators are true to themselves and do not imitate one style. He himself demonstrated this in his own amicable style, and he pointed me to Justice Ginsburg and her litigation experience. I will do that for new colleagues. As to my children, I have impressed upon them her legacy of progressive change through reasoned persuasion. - Margaret Surowka, Counsel, Albany
  • I will continue to mentor young female attorneys and encourage them to become confident and empowered even when they’re the only woman in the room. - Genevieve Trigg, Special Counsel, Albany
  • Maintaining an active role in initiatives for creating outreach for other women in the law, whether that includes mentorship programs or being a bigger part of women’s bar associations—I think taking part in all of these activities is a crucial way we as female advocates can help one another and give back. - Elizabeth Vulaj, Associate, New York City

Please feel free to share any additional thoughts and reflections you may want to share.

  • We all miss her! - Victoria D’Angelo, Special Counsel, Clarence
  • There will never be anyone like RBG! - Penny Mason, Of Counsel, New Haven


 

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