Jurisprudence

Justice Ginsburg’s Harvard Law Classmates Remember Her Life and Influence

“I have to say that Ruth was an icon for me.”

Chalk inscriptions to RBG, including "Thank you RBG, you made my dreams possible" are seen on a wall near the Capitol.
A wall outside the U.S. Capitol on Friday. Liz Lynch/Getty Images

This summer, Slate ran a special series looking into the lives of the nine other women who, at one point or another, were in the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s class at Harvard Law School. We interviewed the families of the women who had passed away, and we were lucky enough to interview some of the women themselves (including Ginsburg). Two of those women, Carol Brosnahan and Flora Schnall, spoke with us for our special podcast series on life at and after Harvard Law School.

When Justice Ginsburg passed away, we realized some of the people we wanted to hear from most were these former classmates, female lawyers who, like Justice Ginsburg, graduated into a relatively hostile environment and spent years of their life banging on doors so they could practice law. Both Carol and Flora spoke with Dahlia Lithwick last week, for a special episode of Amicus commemorating Ginsburg’s life. The episode is worth listening to in full, but if you have just a few minutes, we recommend you listen to Carol and Flora remembering their former classmate in their own words:

Here is a short sampling of what they said, edited and condensed for clarity:

Flora Schnall, who made partner at her law firm and served as the first female president of the American College of Real Estate Lawyers:

It’s amazing that she had the fortitude and willpower to survive as long as she did.

I have to say that Ruth was an icon for me. After graduation, every door was seemingly closed to me and my father was pushing—after supporting me for all those years—for me to take any kind of job. And I was offered very demeaning jobs. But I kept going because I said, well, Ruth, who graduated first from Columbia, hadn’t been offered a job …

It’s going to affect young women. I think we’ll lose Roe v. Wade. … It’s certainly going to affect health care, and so many issues that are going forward. We’re going to have a changing world. I think even if [Trump] loses, but appoints the justice, it is going to make a very big difference in our lives. …

I’m going to go down to Florida and do my best to help turn the tables there. I’m planning on going within the next week or two to really work hard for Florida at least. I think it could be turned and I’m going down so I can vote in person and suggest everybody I know to go down and vote in person, notwithstanding the virus. … I’ll wear a shield. I’ll do whatever I can. I know I’m among the most vulnerable, but I think it’s really important to get out there and get the vote.

Carol Brosnahan, who served as a judge on the Alameda County Superior Court and retired in August:

Ruth, as ill as she was and as much as she had to do, she made a video for my retirement event [this summer] and sent a lovely note to me on my retirement. … It was so nice of her and so thoughtful, and that was what she was. She was an exceptional person. …

It was just hard to have just two women on [the Supreme] Court. I have such strong feelings about not only what she meant to me or to the women in our class or those who knew her, but really, I know it just meant an awful lot to a lot of people. Like my daughter is now a judge, and she was upset too. …

You cannot give up. That, I think, was the message that Ruth gave through her whole life. You just don’t quit. … Right now in other professions, particularly, I’m thinking more of the engineering and tech, there’s still this: Is this the right thing for a woman to be doing? And, Ruth was the classic model for “you can do anything you want to do.” You can be a mother, you can be a wife, you can be a lawyer, and you can be a judge.

 She changed everything, I think. And she changed everything for the better. And that’s what is so distressing about what’s happening right now.