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A Notorious Night in Little Rock: Bader Ginsburg Speaks to Packed House

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

by Dustin Jayroe 

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s hour-long talk at Verizon Arena last night is proof that political intellectualism is alive and well, as is the Justice herself. 

The event, part of the Clinton Foundation and Clinton School of Public Service’s Kumpuris Lecture series, was met with great anticipation. Originally scheduled to be held at the Jack Stephens Center at UALR, the lecture with RBG sold out in less than an hour. To accommodate the demand, the Clinton School announced a venue change in early August: Verizon Arena. With the change, an additional 9,000 were able to add their names to the list, totaling an estimated attendance of 15,000, virtually filling Verizon to capacity.  

Even still, an estimated 15,000 more were left waitlisted for the event, enough to have almost filled the arena twice over. 

Former Governor of Arkansas and President of the United States, Bill Clinton, introduced the “Notorious RBG,” having appointed her to the Supreme Court in 1993. He spoke fondly of the judicial veteran and icon, providing an in-depth analysis of what was going through his head as he searched for someone to fill the Court’s vacancy almost 30 years ago, and why, after interviewing her, RBG quickly became the no-brainer decision for him to make. 

Following President Clinton’s introduction, Justice Ginsburg stepped from behind a black curtain and was escorted to the stage amidst raucous applause and chants of “R-B-G.” 

That was as “polarizing” as the night ever was, even though it was not, in actuality; a Clinton introducing a Supreme Court Justice-turned-Democratic icon is inherently divisive, on its face only. But in substance, it was approachable and useful for both sides of the political spectrum. 

In a time where the current president dominates virtually every political discussion, for better or worse, the name “Donald Trump” was not uttered once (at least by those on stage). Democratic elected officials and candidates from all over the state were in attendance, but so too was Republican Congressman French Hill. It was an hour of tranquility and reflection, despite preconceived notions of otherwise by many. 

Perhaps the most compelling moments on the night were when Justice Ginsburg talked extensively about her great friendship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away while on the bench in 2016. Despite having ideologies and constitutional interpretations that could not differ more from each other, the pair and their families were extremely close. According to Justice Ginsburg, her and Justice Scalia’s families spent virtually every New Year’s Eve together, often attended operas with each other and the two would regularly rib the other playfully about their opinions, grammar and stridence. 

These divulgences come at a time when even the most minor political differences can fracture relationships between family and friends alike. Justice Ginsburg did not prop up any of her remarks with mudslinging and stone-throwing. Rather, it was a poignant conversation filled with depth and complexities. And despite the assumed political leanings of the crowd, these remarks were met with as much applause and appreciation as when RBG spoke about her extensive work for women’s rights (which the night rightfully included its fair share of). Maybe this can be boiled down to simply the respect and admiration that RBG carries. Or, could it be, that we are not as bloodthirsty for each other’s political meat as we think.   

Justice Ginsburg is an optimist, through-and-through. From her husband’s struggles with cancer while the two were in law school together and raising a child, to her own recent and public bouts with the disease and her career-cementing fights for gender equality, RBG has rarely been one to miss a silver lining, by her accounts. In fact, she remembers conversations with the former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor discussing their thankfulness (in a way) for the discrimination against the women early in their law careers, for it led them down a path that ended at the Supreme Court. Without this discrimination, she may be “a retired partner at some law firm” today. 

As naive and kumbaya-ish as it sounds, maybe an injection of Ginsburg’s optimism and understanding is something that we all could use a little bit of.

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Image courtesy of the Clinton School of Public Service’s Facebook page

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