As many of you know, I was a Ginsburg law clerk on two separate occasions—when she was on the appeals court, and then again during her first term at SCOTUS. I know that RBG was perhaps not the favored Supreme Court Justice for many of the readers of this blog—which is fair enough—but I hope you will allow me some personal reminiscences as we all process the meaning of her death and, more importantly, her life and legacy.
I owe Ruth Ginsburg a great deal. My grades were pretty good when she hired me the first time, but, as she herself often admitted, two things got me over the hump in competition with all the other law students whose grades were pretty good: first, that I had an asterisk on my CV, to indicate that I had stayed home with my infant daughter Sarah for the first two years of her life while my wife continued working (RBG liked that arrangement a lot!), and, second, that instead of using one of my boring law school practice memos as a writing sample, I used a paper I had written on “Contract Law in Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle” (and she really liked that).
Most of what I know about writing I learned from her. The rules are actually pretty simple: Every word matters. Don’t make the simple complicated, make the complicated as simple as it can be (but not simpler!). You’re not finished when you can’t think of anything more to add to your document; you’re finished when you can’t think of anything more that you can remove from it. She enforced these principles with a combination of a ferocious—almost a terrifying—editorial pen, and enough judicious praise sprinkled about to let you know that she was appreciating your efforts, if not always your end-product. And one more rule: While you’re at it, make it sing. At least a little; legal prose is not epic poetry or the stuff of operatic librettos, but a well-crafted paragraph can help carry the reader along, and is always a thing of real beauty.
She had the kind of fierce integrity that I think we all would want to see in a judge; she was always determined to get it right, to do right by the litigants and to do right by the law. She had her biases and her blind spots; we all do. But I have often said that if my life were o
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