Amicus Presents: The Class of RBG, Part 2

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.

S2: Please be seated.

S3: I wish you all a good afternoon and I thank the members of the Congress and other interested Americans who are here. After careful reflection, I am proud to nominate for associate justice of the Supreme Court. Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, June nineteen ninety three.

S1: To fill that, Ruth Bader Ginsburg joins President Bill Clinton in the Rose Garden as he announces his intent to nominate her to the Supreme Court to accept the nomination.


S3: If, as I believe, the measure of a person’s values can best be measured by examining the life the person lives, then Judge Ginsburg’s values are the very ones that represent the best in America. I am proud to nominate this pathbreaking attorney, advocate and judge to be the one hundred seventh justice to the United States Supreme Court, looking at this moment in the rearview mirror.

S4: There’s the sheen of inevitability at the time, though. Ruth Bader Ginsburg wasn’t particularly well known. She was a centrist judge on a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Important, sure, but not a household name. Mr. President.

S5: I am grateful beyond measure for the confidence you have placed in me. And I will strive with all that I have to live up to your expectations in making this appointment.


S1: But even as Ginsburg stepped into the public imagination for the first time, there were some people who had been watching her for decades.


S5: The other women of the Harvard Law School class of 1959, my law school class in the late 1950s, numbered over 500. That class included less than ten women.

S1: As Ruth Bader Ginsburg stood next to President Bill Clinton in the Rose Garden, not one former classmate, Rhoda Issel Bucker was in the car driving back from Cape Cod with her kids and her husband. Everyone in the family remembered this moment. Rhoda died in 2015, but her husband Curt and her children talked to us for this project. They said they all heard the announcement over the radio.


S6: They announce that the president just made a significant, I believe. Because it contributes to the end of the days when women, at least half the talent pool in our society appear in high places only as one at a time.

S4: Performers, brooders, reaction to Ruth’s success. Well, she cried. She couldn’t help but think maybe that could have been me.

S7: I’m Dahlia Lithwick. This is Amicus, Slate’s podcast about the Supreme Court and the law. And this is the second and final part of our series. The class of RBD about the women of Harvard Law School’s class of 1959. Today, we’re going to find out what happened to them after Harvard.


S1: We’ll hear about the doors they flung open, the doors that were locked and the doors that were just slammed in their faces as they tried to make their way in a world that wasn’t quite ready for them.

S8: I thought I would do something in the law, but I wasn’t sure what it would be.

S9: And of course, when I got out of law school, there were not a raging number of opportunities.


S1: Carol Brosnahan and her new husband, Jim. He was the fellow law student. She had wooed with her cooking. In her final year at Harvard. Well, they hightailed it out of Boston straight after final exams, didn’t even wait around for graduation, and they headed to Arizona.


S9: When we got to Phoenix, there were no law jobs available to me.

S1: And why Arizona in the first place? Was it was it for Jim’s job?

S9: No. Never had a job. In 1958, a Jewish girl marrying a Catholic guy was not acceptable and certainly not acceptable. Where my husband had grown up, which was in the Irish Catholic community in Boston. So we decided we would set out on our own. In many ways, that has kind of shaped who I am and who Jim is because we understood what it was like to be not quite approved of, not just Jewish, Catholic, but a woman lawyer. Audio was kind of a double whammy.


S1: Carol’s husband, Jim, became an assistant U.S. attorney in Arizona.

S9: Carroll’s job was not quite as prestigious as secretary to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Basically, my job was to hand bills to the. Chairman of the committee and I was glad to have a job, but then I got pregnant with our first child two years later to the day our son was born. I had three kids, three and a half.

S1: Oh, my God. Jim moved from the U.S. attorney’s office in Phoenix to the federal prosecutor’s office in San Francisco, and the family relocated to the Bay Area.

S9: I passed both bars. And I was going crazy trying to stay home with kids. So I took a job with continuing education on the bar and I started out as a fact checker and then I progressed for Carol.


S1: The progress wasn’t necessarily linear.

S10: It was a struggle professionally. You have to be lucky. But I edited litigation books. I wrote a number of books on poverty law. And then I became head of a local bar relations going all over the state. We had two assisted directors and neither of them were doing as much work as I was doing. And I said to the director, you know, I really should be an assistant director. And he wouldn’t do it. And that’s why I put my name in for the judgeship. With that, I’ll put my name and see what happens, because I was director of bar relations. I knew an awful lot of lawyers around the state. My guess is that some of them put in a good word for me. I got a call, Carol. The governor would like to appoint you to the Berkeley Municipal Court and tell Jim you got this woman your own.


S1: At that point, you had three kids, a working spouse who is also an attorney. Was it just a constant juggling plate spinning?

S11: Oh, life and oh, yes.

S9: Because you have to understand that I am of a different generation than you are, which means my husband didn’t change diapers. He was a great dad. But the household and their children were my responsibility. Nothing to criticize him. That’s just the way it was in the nineteen sixties and seventies. So, yes, it was a lot of juggling and not very much sleep.

S1: I don’t know if this makes you feel any better, but when I watch the movies about Justice Ginsburg and Marty Ginsburg and he’s doing all the cooking and all the like in tense parenting, I feel the same way. I’m like, my husband doesn’t quite do that.

S8: That’s aberrational. I agree. Oh, I will tell you a story.

S12: About, oh, this is. It’s about 20 years ago. I was at work. And Jim was home. And I get this phone call. How do you turn on the stones? So he wasn’t much of the kitchen.

S7: Marty Ginsburg once said, quote, I think the most important thing I have done is enable Ruth to do what she has done. But as Carol suggested, it’s hard to overstate how rare that kind of support was. Take Rhoda Issel Bucker, the classmate who cried in the car on the drive back from Cape Cod when news of Ruth Bader Ginsburg appointment to the Supreme Court came over the radio and Rhoda said that could have been me. Her husband, Curt, says he tried to comfort her, replying, no, it couldn’t because Hugh married a doctor, not a lawyer. And I didn’t support your career.


S13: You supported mine.

S14: When I graduated, it was really hard. I did a lot of interviewing to get a job flourish.

S1: Nahles struggle to find work after Harvard was coupled with advice to settle for less sexism, accomplice, low expectations.

S14: My father kept urging me to take one job or another, which I felt were not legal jobs. The only thing that kept me looking was that Ruth hadn’t gotten a job.

S15: And why did that keep you looking? Because you felt like she.

S14: Well, I felt it. Ruth, who was first or second at law school, couldn’t get hired. I just had to keep looking. And I just became very lucky because one summer I worked at the Manhattan district attorney’s office and became friendly with the d.a.’s administrative assistant, Flora’s friend from the summer job yielded a connection that got her in in at the governor’s office. And I got a job as an assistant counsel to Nelson Rockefeller, who was just sheer luck. They wanted a woman. It was a wonderful eight man office. And me, I was the only woman in the office. We draft executive bills. We present a memorandum on bills. And there were all kinds of lobbyists and people approaching us. And it was fascinating.


S1: Flora left her job in the council to the governor’s office for a position at powerhouse law firm Milbank, Tweed, Hadley and McCloy. Although the man who interviewed her for that job was at pains to dispel any illusions she might have about advancing at the firm.

S14: We had no women partners, and I don’t think you’ll ever be a partner here. That’s what it’s all me. And I went into the real estate area not knowing that that was not a white shoe place in the firm to be, if you know what I mean. Well, it turned out that real estate got to be a really hot, lucrative area. And I had a fabulous time.

S1: Flora worked on some of the biggest real estate projects in New York City, Lincoln Center, Battery Park City. She joined professional organizations and she network when Milbank Tweed, as promised, would not make her a partner. She went to a firm that did, and then she moved back to her first firm years later as a partner. She became the first woman president of the American College of Real Estate Lawyers, and all along the way she met resistance and even, she said, ridicule.

S14: It wasn’t easy to have any support from women because they just weren’t. Many women around to do that.

S1: And so how did you win folks over? Did you just keep bringing your ideas?

S14: You’d have to kind of pick and choose the members you felt would support you and engage them to talk it up. You just met a lot of resistance because if it was something new and the fact that they probably didn’t like the idea that a woman had thought of it and they didn’t.


S1: And did you see in the profession as you were going along, could you see sort of the areas of change?

S16: Well, it was happening because they were hiring more women and eventually there were more women who were becoming partners.

S14: Not too many, but some never in positions of real power at the firm.

S11: Did you end up marrying and having kids?

S14: I never married. I never had any kids. When I applied for Social Security, the. I did it on the telephone and the woman said, are you married? No. Are you divorced? No. Are you a widow? No. Do you have any children? No. How do you get to be so lucky?

S1: Flipping through the 1959 Harvard Law School yearbook. It’s the one for the classes final year. There are only seven women among softly lit. Black and white portraits of the graduating class. One woman dropped out after a miserable first year. Another was killed in a tragic motor scooter accident in November of 1958. Ruth Bader Ginsburg isn’t in the 1959 yearbook. She transferred to Columbia for her last year of law school.

S17: Following her husband, Marty, to New York when he got a job there in following Marty, she had to give up on a Harvard Law degree, even though she argued that she’d done most of her studies at Harvard, administrators there would not budge. And so her JD came from Columbia. She made law review at both institutions and graduated top of her class. But still, nothing came easy for the women in my class.

S18: Monday’s class was getting that first job. It was powerfully hard. If the woman got her foot in the door, she did this job very well.


S19: In a second job was not the same hurdle. In those days for me, who there wasn’t a single firm in New York to call me back. Okay. I came down to interviews. But in the end, they were concerned about how their wives would feel. Men working men working closely with women in it amazed me because they all I live in Secretaries’. But that’s just the way it was.

S1: Ruth Bader Ginsburg was also denied a clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. He rejected her because he worried he might not like how she dressed. Quote, I can’t stand girls in pants, he reportedly said. Does she wear skirts when he is told that she did? Frankfurter still declined to interview her, saying he would feel uncomfortable. Never mind that any man with Ginsburg’s resumé would have been a shoo in. But then Ginsburg had a stroke of luck, albeit one for which she was overqualified. She got a federal district court clerkship with Judge Edmond Palmieri at the time. She believed Judge Palmieri had taken her on because he wanted to see women advancing the profession. But it turns out not so much, according to her friend and mentor, Professor Gerald Gunther, a lion of constitutional law.

S19: Jerry Gunta tells a story that I was not aware of until he wrote it in the Hawaii Review. Some issue about me.

S1: Gunther’s story in the Hawaii Law Review was about his role in finding clerkships for Columbia students, including one called Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

S19: He said that he called. Every judge in the Southern District of the 2nd Circuit judges and then he thought he had. A good prospect. And that was Judge Palmieri, who had been a Columbia undergraduate and a Columbia Law School graduate. And as Gerry told the story, he said, give her a chance. And if she doesn’t work out, there’s a young man in her class who’s with a downtown firm and will jump in and take over. Well, if you walk, give her a chance, and I would never recommend another Colombe to. And I thought all along that Palmieri took a chance on me because he had two daughters and he was envisioning. How you would want the world to be restored was not the case, as Jerry tells this story. Palmieri wasn’t resistant to having a woman is a. He had already cat1. But he was concerned about. Jane, the. He might need me and she might be sick one.


S1: And I’m trying to imagine what it feels like. Justice Ginsberg, to think that somebody was a kind of enlightened champion of women only to find out. He took you under duress because he was threatened. I feel as though if I were a one l listening to your story, it would seem like science fiction.

S15: So far away and so hard to relate to. And yet I wonder if you can tell me the parts of of what you were seeing that are still. Urgently important for women to focus on.

S19: It’s the unconscious bias. The expectation. Your lowered expectation when when you hear a woman. Speaking, I think that good that still goes on instinctively when a man speaks, he will be listened to. Where people will not expect this woman to say anything of value, but that all of the women in my generation have had time and again that experience, would you say something? At a meeting and nobody makes anything of it. And maybe half hour later, a man makes the identical point. And people react to it. It’s a good idea that I think is a problem that persists. And getting over unconscious bias by becoming conscious of it. I’m told the story about the symphony orchestra, many people were so sure that they could tell the difference between a woman. Claim. And I man. When blindfolded, they they could not.

S1: We are, of course, rarely blindfolded at work, conscious and unconscious, bias shaped and shifted the lives of all the women in the class of fifty nine. It was an issue in the very first jobs they got and it determined whether and how they went on to do things like make partner later. I wanted to ask Flora Schnall about whether those shifts produced fundamentally different lawyers.


S15: Do you think women approach the law differently than men or do you think. Essentially it’s the same project?

S14: Well, it’s it’s funny because at a dinner once I was sitting next to a federal court judge who told me his daughter was a lawyer and she was a litigator. And I asked him about the litigators, the feminine litigators who come for him. And he said they really don’t have it. They don’t have the killer instinct, he says, and he or his own daughter was a lawyer. So it’s. The way other people perceive women lawyers, they may have the killer instinct, like I had a nickname, they called me The Velvet Hammer.

S16: I love it.

S14: It doesn’t matter if it’s true or false. It’s the way people perceive women lawyers.

S1: And has that changed, do you think, that perceptions about men and women?

S14: No, I don’t think it’s change.

S1: Judge Carl Brosnahan, who continues to preside over cases in her mid 80s, still witnesses those perceptions at work today.

S12: There are still biases. And as long as there are some of the older generation, if you will. Of lawyers and judges who came up. Even in the 60s and 70s. They are not. Receptive. Completely to the idea of a woman. You will hear this in. The descriptions, you know, the male lawyer may be assertive and the woman is shrill. The adjectives may be different. The feeling that somehow it’s not feminine. To fight for your client.

S15: Do you think there’s a difference between women judges and men judges?

S9: I think it’s a question less of women, judges and men judges than lifetime experiences. I think on balance.


S12: The women judges that I bet are a little more open to change because they have been part of it. You know, when I first came, I would be the only woman in the courtroom. Now they’re here. They may be all women in the courtroom.

S1: That’s an amazing shift. One of the emblems and one of the drivers of that shift is their former classmate, Flora Schnall and Carol Brosnahan continue to watch her with pride and affection.

S15: I think the last thing I want to ask about is what it’s been like for you to watch. Ruth Bader Ginsburg career unfold. Has it been. A gob smacking surprise.

S14: I’m trying to think. I guess I took it in my stride and felt. She was extraordinary in that. Very deserving of the honors. And I’m glad she’s hanging on.

S15: Did you ever think that there would be this generation of 14 year old girls who, by all the Ruth Ginsburg, took bags and the wet dress up as her as Halloween? I mean, it’s such a strange thing to happen when she’s in her 80s.

S14: I’m kind of overwhelmed by it, but please. But please. And I wish you the best of health for the next 10 years.

S12: Oh, you know, I’m so proud of her. You know, I want to be her when I grow up. She’s tough, she’s smart, she’s brilliant. And she stands for so much in terms of. What a woman can do that? I’m just I’m in awe of what she’s accomplished.

S1: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is symbolic of so much for so many an icon, but for the women in the class of 59, she’s not an abstraction. She was one of them. What bound these women together were the shared burdens of insulting job interviews, unfair family leave policies, spouses who needed full time wives and persistently unequal pay.


S18: He’s not blaming feminists is women. They have every set of personality. Some shy, some bone. So there wasn’t a type that became the first woman.

S17: These women didn’t go to Harvard to be trailblazers. They went to Harvard to become lawyers. They were just trying to live their lives and do their work in the world. Kept throwing up obstacles. Looking back over all 10 women’s stories, you’ll find full biographies for each of them at Slate dot com slash RPG. It becomes really clear that Justice Ginsburg’s classmates are not just supporting cast in the movie of her life. Their very real struggles are the fuel for her life’s work, their stories, their lives. They’re written into the pages of her opinions and concurrences and dissents. She’s thinking of them when she writes for women who are chronically underpaid, like Lilly Ledbetter. Women trying to access birth control. And Hobby Lobby, where the female cadets attempting to attend the all male Virginia Military Institute. Carol and Flora and and Rhoda, they are all there. Across decades of doctrine, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has worked and written, continues to write to change systems, relieve burdens so women can just live their life.

S7: Next week are Slate plus, members will get to hear my full extended interview with Justice Ginsburg. We sat down with her for a full hour and you will hear more from her about her fellow students, including the woman who most impressed her at the law school. And you’ll hear about her worries about letting the side down if she ever faltered. To listen to it, you’ll need to sign up for Slate plus. And you can do that at Slate dot com slash Amoco’s Plus Hanukkah’s presents. The class of RPG is produced by me, Dahlia Lithwick and Sara Brittingham with Editorial Direction by Laura Bennett and Susan Matthews. Molly Almstead, a staff writer and Slate contributed an immense amount of reporting to this podcast. Again, you’re going to want to read the full stories of all of these women’s extraordinary lives written by Molly at Slate dot com slash RPG. Gabriel Roth is editorial director. Alicia Montgomery is executive producer. And Jim Thomas is senior managing producer of Slate podcasts. The artwork for this special series is by Holly Allen. Special thanks to Slate’s Danielle Hewitt Chow to Katie Raeford, Jason de Leon, Mary Wilson, Noreen Malone, Allison Benedek and Jared Holt. And one more special thanks to Elliott Smith. Thank you so much for listening.

S15: And is there anything that you had been thinking about or reflecting about that you wanted to add before we let you go?

S14: Oh, I just wish men were better.

S11: Wow. Do you want to say that more expansively? Are you happy?

S16: Just that’s it.

S11: I have loved every minute of this. Good. Thank you so much. Okay. Thank you. Ours. Take care. Bye.