Pursuing Justice: Still Listening to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

By Brachah GoykadoshFebruary 1, 2021

Pursuing Justice: Still Listening to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Conversations with RBG by Jeffrey Rosen
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Last Interview and Other Conversations by Ruth Bader Ginsburg

JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG died on Rosh Hashanah. I did not know. My phones and computers were in a drawer that evening and would remain there for the entire holiday. The next morning was peaceful. My niece — my sister and her family had joined us for the holiday — informed me that my newspaper had been delivered, asked me if I wanted to read it. “Later,” I said, almost surprised by my own nonchalance. Because I was still somewhat skittish about congregating in a synagogue, even with masks and social distancing, I prayed at home. After, I brewed a mug of tea and I sat on the couch in the living room. I pulled the newspaper out of its bright blue bag and opened up the bundle of papers. I saw Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s picture before I saw the words. Her eyes — smiling somewhat? — looked at me. The backdrop was black. I gasped. I comprehended before I knew. “What’s wrong?” my mother asked. “No,” I said. “Oh, no.” I read the banner headline and felt my heart lurch. “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is Dead at 87.” I held the newspaper up for my family to see, unable to say the words out loud. Unable to even find the words to say.

The words are still hard to find. I have been unable to articulate the precise parameters of this loss. Perhaps describing what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg means (meant?) to me is challenging because she meant so much to so many others, too. The self-described flaming feminist litigator. The devoted work ethic. The brilliant writing. The scathing dissents. And the dissent collars — a style icon! The model relationship between her and husband. The resilience. The friendships. The cordiality she displayed, particularly to those with whom she did not agree. The fighting spirit. There is so much to say. There is so much that has been said. (I have written about RBG twice before for this publication.) But I am not here to eulogize; this is not eulogy.

Instead, I am here to talk about two new books that are composed primarily of interviews with Justice Ginsburg. For those of us who are yearning to continue to listen to Justice Ginsburg, these books are the closest experience. The first, Conversations with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law by Jeffrey Rosen, provides focused, intimate conversations with Justice Ginsburg. The second, Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Last Interview and Other Conversations published by Melville House, compiles a series of interviews by various individuals with Justice Ginsburg from 1972 to 2020. The same themes appear across Justice Ginsburg’s interviews in both books. But reading each provides a unique experience.

To read Conversations with RBG is to listen in on a dialogue between Rosen and Justice Ginsburg. The conversation is an engaging rapport, evidencing years of friendship between the two. Their first conversation occurred in an elevator in the US Court of Appeals courthouse in 1991, when Justice Ginsburg was Judge Ginsburg, a Circuit Court judge, and Rosen was a law clerk. Rosen asked Justice Ginsburg — whom he describes as a formidable presence who maintained a sphinxlike silence — about the opera. That conversation was the first of many about the opera, and as the title of the book promises, life, love, liberty, the law.

The hardcover edition of the book is made up of 13 interviews between Rosen — who is the president and chief executive officer of the National Constitution Center — and Justice Ginsburg. The paperback edition also contains an “afterword” — a 14th interview — from less than a year before Justice Ginsburg’s death. Undoubtedly, readers will be drawn to Conversations with RBG because it delivers precisely that: conversations with the iconic Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. That is why I read it. But the care with which Rosen writes welcomes readers.

Rosen’s warm friendship with Justice Ginsburg emanates from the pages. That he has conducted a series of interviews with her — in addition to his friendship with the justice — in contrast to a single, stand-alone interview provides a unique insight to his questioning as the interviewer. The most interesting parts of conversations between Justice Ginsburg and Rosen — besides for her brilliance, of course — is when Rosen probes further on certain topics in subsequent interviews. These interviews may not always be revelatory; the topics discussed are ones that Justice Ginsburg has talked about many other times, in many other places. Indeed, any diehard RBG fan will undoubtedly be familiar with her responses. But these 14 interviews — one long conversation, which starts and stops, but does not end — delve deeper. Moreover, the introductory essays by Rosen provide unique insight.

Although also composed of interviews, reading The Last Interview is a different experience from Conversations with RBG for two reasons. First, the seven interviews included in The Last Interview span almost five decades, although the majority of the interviews are from the past 20 years. Second, in each of the seven interviews, Justice Ginsburg is interviewed by a different person or group of people. The result is less cohesive and comprehensive than Conversations with RBG. Indeed, while Conversations with RBG has chapters on separate issues, prefaced with engaging introductory commentary by Rosen, The Last Interview appears to be more haphazard.

Nonetheless, it is a valuable read. In particular, the older interviews seem surprisingly timely. For instance, in a 1986 interview with C-SPAN Judicial Affairs, Justice Ginsburg — who was a DC Circuit Court judge at the time — said that it should make no difference whether a judge is “appointed by President Reagan, or [is] appointed by President Carter, to the quality of the decisions that that judge is making on the court.” She was confident that most judges “do recognize the tradition, the importance of the job they’re doing, and for them to do that judge with total impartiality.” In these polarized times, reading Justice Ginsburg’s views about the importance of impartiality in judicial function — and her confidence in the impartiality of judges — is heartening. The interview can also be watched online. [1]

One of my favorite interviews in The Last Interview was a question-and-answer session that Justice Ginsburg conducted with high school students on January 30, 2002, nearly 20 years ago. The interview reveals how engaged Justice Ginsburg was with future generations; it also highlights some of her remarks in Conversations with RBG. For instance, when discussing the polarity of the times with Rosen, Ginsburg emphasized that she “remain[ed] optimistic when seeing [her] granddaughter and her friends. [Because her granddaughter] knows the importance of getting people to vote.” [2] When asked by Rosen about “[w]hat must young people do to preserve the values of justice and freedom and democracy,” she responds: “They must work together. Many of them are. I’ve talked to young people about the importance of getting out the vote. For democracy to flourish, the society must not be one in which people say, ‘Why bother voting? It doesn’t make the difference.’” And every time Justice Ginsburg writes a dissent, she tells Bill Moyers in the final interview in The Last Interview, “hope springs eternal.” Justice Ginsburg’s dissents are acts of hope. This hope, this optimism for the future — even in ugly times, days that can only be described as stains on this country — is inspiring.

These have been ugly days indeed. What would RBG say? Perhaps she would talk about the endurability of the Constitution and its significance in our democracy. When Rosen asks her in Conversation with RBG about whether “the possibility of a nonpartisan constitutional adjudication [is] an unrealistic ideal,” she answers that it is a “fundamental instrument of our government.” Justice Ginsburg talks about the pocket Constitution she carried with her and how that was impressive to a Chinese reporter. She says, “The Constitution of the United States is our highest law and it trumps any other law. A constitution that has that position — that’s not just aspirational, and that has stayed with us. […] Imagine this Constitution from 1787, it is still governing us.” [3] I imagine that despite the ugliness of these days, she would be proud that this country has elected its first female vice president. Her legacy lives on.

Maybe this is not a eulogy but an elegy. These are the words I have found. The Talmud says, “Even in death, the righteous are called living.” [4] The Hebrew word for righteous has the same root as justice — צֶ֖דֶק. On her chambers walls, Justice Ginsburg had the passage from Deuteronomy, “Justice, justice thou shalt pursue.” [5] Since December 2020, I have been wearing a silver necklace with those words in Hebrew. Each morning, when I close the clasp around my neck, I take a moment to reflect. The words are on the chambers of my heart. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the embodiment of justice; even in her death, she, the justice, is living.


Brachah Goykadosh is a Senior Counsel at the New York City Law Department. Previously, she was an adjunct lecturer at City University of New York, where she received the Charles Hirsch Faculty & Staff Award in Fiction. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, among other publications.


[1] https://www.c-span.org/video/?42922-1/judicial-affairs

[2] Jeffrey Rosen, Conversations with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law, 226 (2020).

[3] Jeffrey Rosen, Conversations with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law, 86 (2020).

[4] Berachot 18a.

[5] Deuteronomy, 16:20.

LARB Contributor

Brachah Goykadosh is a senior counsel at the New York City Law Department. Previously, she was an adjunct lecturer at City University of New York, where she received the Charles Hirsch Faculty & Staff Award in Fiction. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, among other publications.


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