Podcast: Interview with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

At a recent National Constitution Center event in Washington, Jeffrey Rosen sat down with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to discuss opera, Justice Antonin Scalia, and recent court decisions about civil rights.

Here is an excerpt from the discussion between Rosen, who met Ginsburg when he was an opera-loving law clerk 25 years ago, and the Supreme Court Justice:

Rosen: Is it your argument, you’ve been called a judicial minimalist, that the Court should always take baby steps even when it’s reflecting social change?

Ginsburg: Sometimes, in the aftermath of Brown v. Board when there was out and out refusal to follow the law of the land. It is not just the Supreme Court, it is was … in the trial courts and the courts of appeals who insisted that the law of the land said no forced separation of the races in school. Some of them, their lives were in jeopardy, but they enforced the decision.

Rosen: What does Brown mean today and is there agreement about the core meaning?

Ginsburg: The culmination of the civil rights cases that led up to Brown came 13 years later in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia. It was the story of a couple that grew up in the rural area of Virginia where people got along with each other. … So Mildred and Richard Loving came to D.C. to get married because they couldn’t get married in Virginia. They went back to Virginia. One night the sheriff comes to their home with a flashlight and said, “get out of bed and come with me to see the judge.” They pointed to their marriage certificate which they had framed and he said, “that doesn’t count for anything here.” So the judge said he would not sentence them to prison if they agreed to leave the state of Virginia and never come back together. Then the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King were very important in the country. And Mildred Loving thought that maybe there was hope the system would work for her. So they brought the case and it ended again with a unanimous decision in Supreme Court in 1967. The Loving v. Virginia decision is when apartheid in America ended, not with Brown.

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