Justice Goodwin Liu on the legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Sept. 21, 2020
Justice Goodwin Liu, now an Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court, served as a clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg during the 2000 Supreme Court session. “She was a wonderful boss, a tremendous mentor,” he said. “She loved the law; that was infectious.”
As Liu describes her, Ginsburg took care to maintain good relationships with her fellow justices. “She was a paragon of calm temperament and collegiality,” he said.
He worked for her during the Bush v. Gore case that resulted from the 2000 presidential election. “She wrote a very powerful dissent in that case,” he remembered. According to Liu, that dissent was the beginning of Ginsburg finding her voice as a “great dissenter” on the court. “I don’t think she relished dissenting,” Liu said, “but she was unafraid to use her voice when she felt it was necessary.”
Ginsburg always took extreme care in drafting the opening paragraphs of her legal opinions, Liu remembered. He said that she always tried to write that section in plainspoken terms so if a person read only the first few paragraphs, they would understand the issue and the Court’s position. “She always wanted to make sure that people who were consumers of the Court’s opinions would not be left mystified by a judicial opinion,” Liu said.
Liu also spoke about Ginsburg’s focus on individuals in each case. “One of her great geniuses was her ability to capture the human dimension of what was going on in a particular case,” he said.
“The full measure of Justice Ginsburg’s contributions to women’s rights and gender equality is hard to even capture in words,” said Liu. As a litigator, she argued cases before the Supreme Court that established some of the most pivotal precedents applying the equal protection of the law to women. On the bench, her signature accomplishment was the decision in 1996 that declared Virginia Military Institute’s policy of excluding women to be unconstitutional. “In many ways, she came full circle in her career on constitutional law with respect to the protection of women.”
It goes beyond that, Liu said. “She was the tip of the spear of not just a legal movement, but a cultural movement.” He said people have recognized her tenacity, fortitude and willingness to speak up, inspiring others to draw courage from her example.