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Alumnae News September 28, 2020

‘A Role Model in the Pursuit of Justice and Equality’

Phoebe Haddon and Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Receiving the Association of American Law Schools Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019 was truly one of the highlights of my career in legal education. The fact that Justice Ginsburg was hospitalized and not able to attend the AALS gathering that year was heartbreaking for me, personally, and as chancellor of Rutgers University-Camden. Notably—as Justice Ginsburg often recognized—she had embarked on her legal career as a member of the law faculty at Rutgers on the Newark, New Jersey, campus.

Her absence was a huge disappointment for most AALS attendees, but particularly for the women, who saw RBG as a veritable icon and role model in her pursuit of justice and equality for all. I wrote to Justice Ginsburg, wishing her well. Later, after she recuperated, I was invited to visit her inner chambers with my award. We spoke for a while and took lots of photos.

During her nearly three-decade-long tenure on the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg’s commitment to social justice led her to sometimes take the long course—exemplified in her many incisive dissents. She also signed on to concurring opinions with others on the court with whom she agreed. These concurrences were often the product of her remarkable negotiation skills as a lawyer. As has been attributed to another icon who recently died, John Lewis, and as was first coined by Martin Luther King, it can be said that Justice Ginsburg’s judicial work embodied the steadfast belief that the arc of justice bends wide, but it always bends toward justice. 

As chancellor of Rutgers University-Camden, I was keenly aware that many young people—particularly first-generation college goers and those who aspire to do so—need role models to enable them to imagine themselves as leaders, capable of making decisions and taking the helm. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a role model and mentor for many women and others who worked alongside her as young lawyers while she was a law professor and judge. It is my belief that many of us have succeeded because we have benefited from the boost of confidence that comes with being mentored and having role models.

In honor of RBG, we should rededicate ourselves to outreach, especially to women and people of color who are first-generation. Our system of justice, as well as securing the legacy of Justice Ginsburg’s work, depends on us.