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tv   The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations  Bloomberg  March 28, 2020 12:00pm-12:30pm EDT

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david: so if you have a 5-4 perspective decision, does one of the justices go to another justice and say, "why don't you change your mind?" does that work very much? justice ginsburg: no. there's no horse trading at the court. david: you have also gotten attention for your exercise routine. justice ginsburg: when it comes time to meet with my trainer, i drop everything. david: many people think that the court is very political. justice ginsburg: people have that view because agreement is not interesting. disagreement is. >> will you fix your tie, please? david: well, people wouldn't recognize me if my tie was fixed, but ok. just leave it this way. all right. ♪
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david: i don't consider myself a journalist. and nobody else would consider myself a journalist. i began to take on the life of being an interviewer, even though i have a day job of running a private equity firm. how do you define leadership? what is it that makes somebody tick? ♪ david: let me ask you a question at the beginning. how does it feel to get up in the morning and know that 330 million americans want to know the state of your health that day? [laughter] justice ginsburg: how does it feel? encouraging. [laughter] as cancer survivors know, that their disease is a challenge, and it helps to know that people are rooting for you. now, it's not universal. [laughter]
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when i had pancreatic cancer in 2009, there was a senator, whose name i don't recall, but he said i would be dead within six months. that senator is now no longer alive. [laughter] [applause] david: but you can't remember his name? justice ginsburg: no, i don't remember his name. david: but your current view is that as long as you're healthy, and able to do the job, you intend to stay on the court. is that correct? justice ginsburg: as long as i'm healthy and mentally agile. [applause] david: ok, so, now, justice stevens and previously, justice oliver wendell holmes, they retired when they were 90. would you like to break their record? have you given any thought to that? justice ginsburg: i spent the
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first week of july with justice stevens in what turned out to be the last week of his life. he was remarkable. he was 99 years old. since he left the court at age 90, he has written four books. so yes, he's my role model. [laughter] david: so, today, many people think that the court is very political, that people appointed to the court by democratic presidents and those appointed by republican presidents tend to follow the political desires of the republican or democratic party. do you think that's a fair assessment? and why do you think, if it's not fair, people have that view? justice ginsburg: people have that view because agreement is not interesting. disagreement is. so the press tends to play up 5-4 or 5-3 decisions. but if we could take just last
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term as a typical example, we had 68 decisions after full briefing and argument. of those, 20 were 5-4 or 5-3 divisions. but 29 were unanimous. so we agree more often than we disagree. and that's something i would like the audience to take away, that the divisions, yes, they are on some very important questions, but our agreement rate is always higher than our disagreement rate. david: so if you have a 5-4 perspective decision, does one of the justices go to another justice and say, "why don't you change your mind?" does that work very much? justice ginsburg: no. there's no horse trading at the
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court. david: nobody says, "if you vote for me on this one, i'll vote for you on that one." that doesn't happen? [laughter] justice ginsburg: it doesn't happen, but we are constantly trying to persuade each other. and most often, we do it through our writing. every time i write a dissent, i am hopeful that i can pick up this vote. david: many people are surprised that the civility that exists between justices, even though they write not such favorable things about each other. so, for example, justice scalia used to say not such wonderful things about your views, and you then still went to the opera with him. was that a little awkward or hard to do? justice ginsburg: not at all. justice scalia and i became friends when we were buddies on the d.c. circuit. what did i love most about him? his infectious sense of humor. when there were three judges on
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the court of appeals, he'd sometimes whisper something to me. it would crack me up. [laughter] i had all i could do to contain hysterical laughter. but we had much in common. true, our styles were very different, but both of us cared a lot about writing opinions, so that at least other lawyers and judges would understand what we were saying. david: both of you were, and you still are, a great opera lover. where did you get your love of opera to begin with, and where did the opera "scalia/ginsburg" come from? justice ginsburg: i'll take the first question first. [laughter] my love of opera began when i was 11 years old. i was in grade school in brooklyn, new york.
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my aunt, who was a middle school, junior high school, english teacher, took me to a high school in brooklyn where an opera was being performed. it was not a likely choice for a first opera. there was a man at the time, named dean dixon, whose mission in life was to turn children on to beautiful music. and he had an all-city orchestra who took opera performances around to various schools, condensed them into one hour, narrated in between. there were costumes, bare staging. so, my introduction to opera was thanks to dean dixon in 1944. david: so the "scalia/ginsburg" opera was written by a law school student? justice ginsburg: he was then a law school student. he was a music major at harvard
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and a masters in music from yale. derrick wang is his name. he decided it would be useful to know something about the law, so he enrolled in his hometown law school, the university of maryland. and in his second year, he took a constitutional law course. he read these dueling opinions, scalia on one side, ginsburg on the other, and decided this could make a very funny opera. [laughter] so i'll just give you a taste of "scalia/ginsburg." it opens with scalia's rage -- [laughter] very hungarian in style. and he's saying, "the justices are blind. how can they possibly spout this?
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the constitution says absolutely nothing about this." [laughter] and then in my soprano voice, i answer, "dear justice scalia, you are searching for bright line solutions to problems that don't have easy answers. but the great thing about our constitution is that, like our society, it can evolve." so that sets up the difference between us. the plot of "scalia/ginsburg" is roughly based on "the magic flute." [laughter] scalia is locked up in a dark room. he's being punished for excessive dissenting. [laughter] i then emerge through a glass ceiling. [laughter] [applause]
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to help him pass the test he needs to pass to get out of the dark room. then a character left over from "don giovanni," the commandatore, is established. he said, "he's your enemy. why would you want to help him?" and i say, "he's not my enemy. he's my dear friend." and then we sing a wonderful duet that goes, "we are different, we are one. different in our approach to reading legal texts, but one in our reverence for the constitution and for the institution we serve." david: you are extremely well-known around the country now, but you weren't when you went on the court. but now you've become, more or
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less a rock star, rbg -- justice ginsburg: when i was asked, "well, what in the world do you have in common with the notorious b.i.g.?," i said, "it's obvious." [laughter] ♪
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david: so, most justices of the supreme court are relatively not recognized by the public, i would say. maybe in recent years that has changed a little bit. but you are extremely well-known around the country now. but you were not when you went on the court. but now you've become, more or less, a rockstar, rbg. you have movies about you, "on the basis of sex," and so forth. why do you think this has occurred? is this something you don't enjoy that much, or something you think comes with the territory now? justice ginsburg: how was the "notorious rbg" created? [applause] it was the idea of a second year student at nyu law school who was very disappointed in the court's decision in the shelby county case. and that was the case in which
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the court declared unconstitutional the key provision of the voting rights act of 1965. an act that had been renewed time and again by overwhelming majority on both sides of the aisle. but the supreme court stepped down the formula. the way the voting act worked was, if you were a state or a city or a county that kept african americans from voting in the not so good old days, you could not make any change in voting legislation unless you precleared it with the department of justice, civil rights division, or with the three-judge district court of
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the district of columbia. so that suppressed many laws that would have discouraged african americans from voting. the supreme court said, well, the formula of who is discriminating in 1965 is now out of date. congress needs to do it over, because jurisdictions that were discriminating in 1965 may have clean hands today. the political problem was what member of congress, what senator, what representative would stand up and say, "my state or my city or my county is still discriminating, so keep it under the surveillance that the voting rights act provides"? it just wasn't going to happen.
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the act itself had a bailout provision. so if a state, city, county indeed had clean hands for several elections, it could bail out. and that device, i thought, was all that was needed. but in any event, this student was disturbed about the court's decision. she was angry. and then she said to herself, "anger is not a useful emotion. i'm going to do something positive." and what she did was she took the announcement of my dissent that i read from the bench in shelby county, and she created this blog, "the notorious rbg,"
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a name she got from a well-known rapper, who was called the notorious b.i.g. and when i was asked, "well, what in the world do you have in common with the notorious b.i.g.?," i said, "it's obvious." [laughter] "both of us were born and bred in brooklyn, new york." [applause] david: so, now, you were born and bred in brooklyn. you have still a bit of a brooklyn accent, you might admit. you were played in a movie by felicity jones, who is not jewish or from brooklyn. so how do you think she did? justice ginsburg: i thought she was fantastic. when i first met felicity, i said, "you speak the queen's english. how are you going to sound like a girl born and bred in brooklyn?" but she listened to many tapes
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of my speeches, my arguments at the court, and she was wonderful. david: so, in recent years, you have also gotten a lot of attention for your exercise routine. [laughter] justice ginsburg: right. david: so when did that start? and you have your own trainer, and you're still lifting weights, or whatever you're doing? justice ginsburg: as recently as tuesday. [applause] i've been with the same personal trainer since 1999, when i had my first cancer bout. and my dear husband said -- i have to go into surgery, chemotherapy, radiation. i looked like a survivor of auschwitz. he said, "you must do something to build yourself up. get a personal trainer."
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and that's when i started, in 1999. sometimes i get so absorbed in my work, i just don't want to let go. but when it comes time to meet my trainer, i drop everything. and as tired as i may be in the beginning, i always feel much better when we finish. david: did marty's mother ever give you any advice when you met her, about how to be happily married? justice ginsburg: she gave me some wonderful advice. we were married in her home. and she said, "dear, i'd like to tell you the secret of a happy marriage." ♪
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♪ david: ok, so you met your husband, marty. you were married for 56 years. justice ginsburg: yes. david: you met him at cornell. is that right? justice ginsburg: yes, we met when i was 17 and he was 18. david: and what is the likelihood of a woman at cornell meeting somebody they marry, and that person wants to take care of child-rearing, and also cooking, as well as sharing the burdens of being married? is that a very common thing in your observation? [laughter] justice ginsburg: it was extraordinary at any time, but particularly in the 1950's. cornell, by the way, had a 4:1 ratio, four men to every woman.
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it was the place parents want to send their daughters. [laughter] if you couldn't find your man at cornell, you were hopeless. [laughter] so then i met marty, and he was, in fact, the first boy i ever knew who cared that i had a brain. he was always my biggest booster. the cooking, that began -- i had two years between college and law school when marty was in service. those two years we spent in fort sill, oklahoma, the principal artillery base. i got pregnant during the first year. and when i went back to new york to give birth, my cousin sent marty a copy of the cookbook in
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english translation, and said, "this will give you something to do while your wife is away." so marty had originally been a chemistry major at cornell. and he treated this cookbook like a chemistry textbook. [laughter] he started with the basic stuff and worked his way through it. he gave up chemistry because it interfered with golf practice. marty was a great golfer. and then he switched to government, which was my major. he attributed his skill in the kitchen to two women, his mother and his wife. his mother, i think, that was an unfair judgment, but he was certainly right about me. [laughter] i had one cookbook. it was called "the 60-minute chef."
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and that meant from when you enter the apartment to when it's on the table, no more than 60 minutes. i had seven meals that i made, and when we got to seven, we went back to number one. [laughter] david: so did marty's mother ever give you any advice when you met her about how to be happily married? justice ginsburg: she gave me some wonderful advice. we were married in her home. and she said, just before the ceremony started, "dear, i'd like to tell you the secret of a happy marriage." "i'd like to hear it. what is it?" "every now and then," she said, "it helps to be a little deaf." [laughter] which was such wonderful advice. i follow it religiously to this
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very day, if i'm dealing with my colleagues -- [laughter] if an unkind word is said, i just tune out. david: so, as a result of your marriage to marty, who was a distinguished law professor and tax lawyer as well, you have two children, jane, your daughter, who teaches at columbia. justice ginsburg: she is a professor of literary and artistic property law. [applause] david: and as i understand it, you and she were the only mother-daughter team to ever actually be elected to the harvard law review. is that true? justice ginsburg: so far. [laughter] david: so far. and you have a son who's in the music business? justice ginsburg: james makes exquisite compact discs. james grew up with a passion for music but no talent as a performer. so when he went to the
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university of chicago, he was a classical disc jockey on the student radio station. then in the year he was dropping in and out of law school, he was also making recordings. one day he told us he liked what he was doing much more than his law classes. so we said, fine. that's what you want to do. and today, he labeled a cd, and his recordings are gems. david: do you have any grandchildren? justice ginsburg: i have four grandchildren, two step grandchildren, and one great grandchild. [applause] david: ok, and do your grandchildren call you rbg? or what do they call you? justice ginsburg: i am a jewish grandmother, so i am called "bubbe." david: ok. in the harvard law review and columbia law review, you were flooded with job offers from the major law firms. [laughter]
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justice ginsburg: there wasn't a single firm in the entire city of new york that would take a chance on me. ♪ good morning!
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david: from the harvard law review and columbia law review, you were flooded with job offers from the major law firms. [laughter] justice ginsburg: i had three strikes against me. david: after 13 years, did you think you had a chance to be on the supreme court? justice ginsburg: no one thinks, "my aim in life is to be a supreme court justice." david: when you first got on the court, were other justices saying, "we're happy to see you here, let's go have dinner together"? justice ginsburg: justice o'connor was the most welcoming. she gave me some very good advice. >> would you fix your tie, please? david: well, people wouldn't recognize me if my tie was fixed, but ok. just leave it this way. all right.

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