The Slatest

Justice Breyer Wrote a Poem to Honor “Good, Good Friend” Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Neil Gorsuch, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Brett Kavanaugh standing, and Stephen Breyer, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Samuel Alito seated, all in their robes
The justices of the Supreme Court in Washington on Nov. 30, 2018. Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

The eight justices of the Supreme Court, as well as two retired justices, paid tribute to their late colleague Ruth Bader Ginsburg, calling her a “hero,” “a rock of righteousness,” and “a cherished colleague,” among other characterizations. Justices Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas served with her almost the entire 27 years Ginsburg served on the nation’s highest court, and their emotional statements are a testament to how they felt about their longtime colleague. Breyer in particular stood out because he decided to write Ginsburg a poem. His full statement:

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I heard of Ruth’s death while I was reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish at the Rosh Hashanah service. I thought: 

a great Justice;

a woman of valour;

a rock of righteousness;

and my good, good friend.

The world is a better place for her having lived in it.

And so is her family;

her friends;

the legal community;

and the nation.

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Thomas said he and his wife were “heartbroken” to learn of the death of Ginsburg. He went on:

Through the many challenges both professionally and personally, she was the essence of grace, civility and dignity. She was a superb judge who gave her best and exacted the best from each of us, whether in agreement or disagreement. And, as outstanding as she was as a judge, she was an even better colleague—unfailingly gracious, thoughtful, and civil.

Through her loss of her wonderful husband, Marty, and her countless health challenges, she was a picture of grace and courage. Not once did the pace and quality of her work suffer even as she was obviously suffering grievously. Nor did her demeanor toward her colleagues diminish.

The most difficult part of a long tenure is watching colleagues decline and pass away. And, the passing of my dear colleague, Ruth, is profoundly difficult and so very sad. I will dearly miss my friend.

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Chief Justice John Roberts said the United States “has lost a jurist of historic stature,” while the court “lost a cherished colleague,” whom he characterized as a “tireless and resolute champion of justice.”

Justice Samuel Alito wrote that he and his wife were “deeply saddened” by the news:

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Ruth and Marty made us feel at home immediately when I joined the Court, and we will certainly miss her. Justice Ginsburg will go down as a leading figure in the history of the Court. She will be remembered for her intelligence, learning, and remarkable fortitude. She has been and will continue to be an inspiration for many.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor called Ginsburg “an American hero”:

She spent her life fighting for the equality of all people, and she was a pathbreaking champion of women’s rights. She served our Court and country with consummate dedication, tirelessness, and passion for justice. She has left a legacy few could rival.

I will miss Ruth greatly. She welcomed me to the Court with a warmth I could not have expected, and I came to feel a special kinship with her. She was someone whose wisdom, kindness, and unwavering support I could always rely on. I will forever cherish the moments we shared.

I send my deepest condolences to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchild. I know how much she treasured and loved you. She often said that leading a meaningful life means living for one’s family and one’s community, not for oneself. Ruth lived a profoundly meaningful life, and the numerous ways in which she changed ours will never be forgotten.

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Justice Elena Kagan also called Ginsburg “a hero” as she emphasized her fight for equal rights and noted her personal connection to her late colleague:

Ruth reached out to encourage and assist me in my career, as she did for so many others, long before I came to the Supreme Court. And she guided and inspired me, on matters large and small, once I became her colleague. I will miss her—her intellect, her generosity, her sly wit, her manifest integrity, and her endless capacity for work—for the rest of my life. I give my deepest condolences to her beloved children and grandchildren. May her memory be a blessing.

Justice Neil Gorsuch said he and his wife “lost a cherished colleague and friend”:

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We are blessed by the happy memories that will remain, like traveling with Ruth to London where (to her delight) an uninformed guide kept calling her “Ruthie,” or all the opera she tried so valiantly to teach me, or her sweet tooth at lunch, or the touching stories of her remarkable life with Marty. We will miss Ruth and our hearts go out to her family. May she rest in peace.

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh said that no American had done more to ensure women equal justice under the law:

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A meticulous and pathmarking judge, she held herself to the highest standards of precision and accuracy in her beautifully crafted opinions. And she inspired all of us to try to meet those same exacting standards. I learned from her principled voice and marveled at her wonderful wit at our weekly conferences and daily lunches.

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Retired Justice David H. Souter wrote that he “loved” Ginsburg “to pieces” and said she was “one of the members of the Court who achieved greatness before she became a great justice.”

Retired Justice Anthony M. Kennedy called Ginsburg a “distinguished jurist and an inspiring, wonderful person”:

In our court sessions and conferences Ruth was remarkably well prepared for every case, down to the smallest detail. If the two of us disagreed, it was always in a civil, principled, respectful way.

By her learning she taught devotion to the law. By her dignity she taught respect for others and her love for America. By her reverence for the Constitution, she taught us to preserve it to secure our freedom.

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