Skip to main content

tv   RBG Her Legacy the Courts Future a PBS News Hour Special  PBS  September 24, 2020 7:00pm-8:01pm PDT

7:00 pm
captioning sponsored by newshour productions, llc >> this progm was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. in behalf of the women of this country, she has compiled an historic record of achievement. >> i, ruth baderinsburg, do solemnly swear i will support and defend the constitution of the united states. >> it has been a basis for unjustified assumptions, that help keep women in their place. >> they call her notorious r.b.g. >> this president decided to jam a lifetime
7:01 pm
appointment to the supreme court through the united states senate. >> president trump: that's what we're going to do. we're going to build the sena. >> she stood up for women, and she had people's best inrests at heart. >> ruth bader ginsburg, her legacy and the courts future, a pbs "newshour" special. >> >> woodruff: welcome to this pbs newshourpecial, "r.b.g.: her legacy and the court's future." i'm judy woodruff. the death of justice ruth bader ginsburg comes at a critical moment. in her life, she often found herself in them, in some cases, she created them. justice giburg leaves a lasting impact on the law, the nation and how we as americans conceive of equality. she has been lying in repose at the supremcourt before becoming the first woman in history to lie in state at the u.s. capitol. we know there are other critical issues today: a pandemic that
7:02 pm
has left more than 200,000 americans dead; an economic crisis that has left millions more out of work; a reckoning over racial injustice in cities across the country and an election that will shape our future. but now, we focus on justice ginsburg and what her absence means for the court. we begin with a rare and special reflection on the life and legacy of justice ginsburg from inside the supreme court: justice stephen breyer joined the court a year after ginsburg; they were friends and long-time allies in their approach to the law. justice breyer, thank you so much for joining us. how has this affected you? >> thank you for having me. i mean, it's affected me. it makes me pretty sad. weere friends for a long time. not just on the court.
7:03 pm
i knew ruth before she was a judge. i always thought she was a good judge and for me, i mean, she was a rock. she was fun, actually. we thought a lot a like. we talked... it was nice. it was just nice for me, having her right here on the court with me. >> woodruff: what was it like being with her on the court? you knew each other, as you said, a little beforehand. what was that friendship like? >> on the court, well, you have to understand, ruth. i mean, ruth had a brilliant mind and she's logical and hardworking. very principled and very detailed. and she has a sense of humor. but that is not obvious at first meet. you know, i'm more talky. she, when she-- i think sometimes when i talk. and she thinks when she thinks. so, if she has nothing to say, she says nothing. and that cane a little putting
7:04 pm
off. but over time, she is the kind of person, the more that you know her, the better you like her. not just respect, it's respect, but i mean genuine like. and i would now in more recent years, i might find something very funny and i would go in her office and i'd say, ruth, you know, did you-- what do you think of this? and i think it was a riot, of course. and she thought it was sort of funny, too. and i could stay or we could talk about it as long as i didn't stay too long. because if i start to stay too long, that would keep her away from her work. and she'd stand up behind her desk, and i knew exactly when e wanted to get back to work, and she did. and-- well, i miss her. i miss her. i will miss her a lot. that's certain. that's meant. >> woodruff: so, justice breyer, it's clear that the two of you got along very well. did she get along well with everybody on the court?
7:05 pm
>> she did get along well. i mean, she paid attention to detail and that detail involved human relations. it involved her clothes. she dressed very nicely. it involved those she used to wear. well, just a few weeks ago, i had my sixth gndchild. and unbeknownst to me, she sent a little present to this infant, a t-shirt which said r.b.g. future clerk. and then she figured out, i don't know that he had a brother or a half brother. and she put in there "this is too small for you, stevie. it's going to have to be for ryan until you get big enough to fill it." and she did things like that for a lot of people and on this score. elena was telling me that she did something like that for her. and she's thoughtful. look, i me in my office this afternoon for a few minutes ago and on my desk as i had a birthday two weeks ago.
7:06 pm
here is a card, she said. and it says, i order you a picture of her to have a happy birthday. then it says to my younger colleague, stay cool and well. and we have to face to face, enjoy theater and other musical productions and other post pandemic delights. i really -- that put me in a lot better mood this morning seeing that. >> woodruff: she's clearly had a sense of humor and had that personal touch. what about on the work side? justice breyer, i'm curious about the internal dynamics of you, frequently outnumbered for progressive's on the court. what was her role in that? >> her role was primarily-- we knew that she would think things through. we knew, i certainly knew and
7:07 pm
the others knew, that she would have gone into the detail of the case. she would understand the record, would understand the details. and if she was going to write something, she would write it clearly right to the point. and that was just going to be it. for me, that was good. it was helpful. and when she was dealing with something, i knew it would be thorough and i knew she'd persevere and i knew it would be principled. >> woodruff: we don't know who her replacement will be, of course, but how will the court be different without her? >> oh, i'd known that would be a loss. dge byron white said "with every new judge, it's a new court, no matter what. different human relationships, different reactions." >> woodruff: you are known, justice breyer, as a consensus seeker on the court. will that be more difficult with a sixth conservative justice? >> well, yogi berra! i never make predictions, particularly not about future. >> woodruff: and i know you don't want to comment on what's going on, the political partisan
7:08 pm
atmosphere out there right now. but do you have a worry, justice breyer, that these bitter battles are going to affect the institution, are going to affect the credibility of the supreme court? >> you're asking me really what i think about the future. so i don't really. i don't know publicly anyway, this moment. whever that the future will bring and we will all do our best on this court, whatever that is. >> woodruff: one other thing, justice breyer, you said in april of last year that yo wouldn't mind seeing term limits imposed on supreme court justices as long as they were long and you mentioned 18 years. do you still hold that vie >> that was a number pulled out of a hat. i've asked that many times. would it be just as good to have the very long term. and, personally, i think that's fine as long as the term is
7:09 pm
long. what i was thinking of when i asked the question is, is you don't want a person in this job that i have now thinking about what his or her next job will be. and that's why it has to be a long term. but as a practical matter, though, the constitution has been interpreted as a life term. >> woodruff: you were also asked about the size of the court and at that time last year, you said you thought nine was about the right number. you still feel that way? >> i would like to make no comment whatsoever about anything that's happening outside this court at the moment. johanna one time said, you know, stephen, not every silence has to be filled. she was a thinking person with a very good mind and a very, very great justice. i was lucky that she was my colleague for 25, 26 years. >> woodruff: it sounds like you'll miss her.
7:10 pm
>> i will, i do. >> woodruff: justice stephen breyer, thank you so much for talking with us. we appreciate it. >> when i graduated from law school in 1959, there wasn't a single woman on any federal bench. it wouldn't be a realistic ambition for a woman to want to become a federal judge. it wasn't realistic until jimmy carter became our president. he looked around at the federal judiciary and said: that's nice, but they all look like me. so, i am determined to appoint members of minority groups and women in numbers to the federal bench, so we will use the talent of all of the people of the united states, and not just some of them. >> woodruff: and that was from an interview the justice did with our late colleague gwen ifill.
7:11 pm
as we'll hear tonight, many have described ruth bader ginsburg as a "trailblazer." amna nawaz focuses on where that began, the work she did before she joined the supreme court. >> nawaz: let's look now at some of the key ideas, the arguments and decisions ginsburg took on early in her career that helped shape history and our legal protections today. attorney brenda feigin co-founded the a.c.l.u. women's rights project with ruth bader ginsburg in 1972. that'shere ginsburg first worked on cases targeting discrimination on the basis of sex. and aclu attorney ria tabaccoma now heads the project. thanks to both of you for joining us today. brenda, i want to begin with u, because it was during that time when you were wh her there at the a.c.l.u. women's rights project that she argued her very first case before the supreme court. it was for air force lieutenant sharon frontiero arguing that federal benefits the laws there
7:12 pm
treated married female members of the armed forces differently than males. it was 1973. you were there in washington with her. tell us what it was like to watch her argue that case. >> i had all these big, huge casebooks with me that i was prepared to usto give her the sights to the cases that she was relying on in her oral argument. i didn't need a single one of them. when we start, it was the usual oyez oyez. and then the justices proceeded into the courtroom and i could tell that she was nervous, but i was, too. i was looking at the justices and they were sitting there looking sort of days and amazed and i wasn't sure, but i thought they were really paying attention. the problem was that no one, not a single one of them asked a question or made a comment, which is very unusual in the supreme court. so she carried forth. she used citations of two authors and people like blackburn and thomas jefferson. thomas jefferson said that women
7:13 pm
should never be seen or heard, and it was just an amazing culmination of history that was defying the notion that women were not allowed in illinois to be lawyers or in florida, women couldn't didn't have to serve juries because we needed the protectionf being able to stay home. and i just thought she nailed it. and i leaned over to her after her remarks were finished. and i said, you're going to be the next democratic appointees to the sreme court. i'm sure of it. i was right. >> nawaz: well, ria, let me ask you, here was a woman who knew, as brenda mentioned, what it was to be discriminated against. what it was to have your place at law school questioned, to have to hide a pregnancy to save your job. and yet it became part of her litigation strategy to pick up the cases of men to challenge gender based assumptions in the law. why do you think she did that? >> well, that was one of her favorite stregies and one of justice ginsburg's favorite cases to talk about was a case on behalf of a man named steven weidenfeld. his wife had passed away in childbirth and he wanted to stay
7:14 pm
home with their young son for the first several months or years in order to raise him when he learned that he was not entitled to social security survivor benefits simply because he was a man and had his wife been the one who was left alone to raise their son. you know, she would have been entitled to benefits on their child's behalf. and what justice ginsburg understood is that by representing men, she helped male judges understand that sex discrimination affects all of us. it's not only women who are harmed by the stereotype that women should be caregivers and that men should be breadwinners. but it's men, too, who are deprived of that opportunity to reallyxperience fully the joys of family life. >> nawaz: brenda, as ria just mentioned, it wasn't just about fighting for equal protection for wome it was equal, equal protection for all. wh it comes to cases for l.g.b.t.q. members, how did she approach those? what can you tell us about wh >> she knew that because she lived it herself. she had been turned away from jobs simply because she was a women. you saw that in her ads advocacy, and she knew what it was like to be the
7:15 pm
underdog, to be told your kind isn't good enough, and to be turned away simply because of who she was. >> brenda, it wasn't just about fightinfor equal protection for women, but equal protection for all. when it comes to cases for lgbtq, how did she approach those? what can you tell us about why she thought those were important? >> i was sitting in the courtroom when she made her famous remark when she said, skim milk marriages, the notion of marriage between a man and woman, and not anybody else, and she really cared about equal protection. anything that denies a group of people, particularily with an unmuteable characteristic, she is there to establish the equal rights of all of us. >> it is fair to say she became a much more vocal critic later in her carrier. she was very concerned about the voting rights
7:16 pm
and reproductive rights. and you said her dissents were equally as important or just as important as her majority opinions. what did you mean about that? >> she voted to be the moral authority for the court. because she understood the human stakes that really mattered in each case. she had been the person who was turned away. the notorious r.b.g. came about was of county versus holder, a voting rights case where the majority really gutted what is called preclearance, which blocks people from adopting discriminate rules. and making that accessible toeal people, and helping us understand what she already saw, that the voting rights act was the umbrella that was saving us from discriminatory voting. >> brenda, she was known for being so civil in her
7:17 pm
work, and being a legal tactics. but when you look at the body of her work, there had to be a very deep passion within to work so tirelessly, and in such a dedicated way, towds that goal of equal protection for all. did you see that in your time with her? >> absolutely. when we were working on the frontier, she cited elizabeth katie stanton, many steps of ways that women were unequal in society and needed to be, and, of cour, the right to vote, which we only got 100 yes ago. on a personal note, i just want to say that i was asked to direct the project with her in large part because i had been so active in the women's movement itself before that. for example, the march down 5th avenue was a big deal in the women's movement and in our history. this didn't all spring out of the air. it came from the atmosphere of the time of the women in the '60s and early '70s, women realizing we needed to demand our rights and
7:18 pm
equal power in this society. >> it is fairo say that legacies can take generations to form. but, rita, in what way do you see the legacy of ruth bader ginsburg in action and what work needs to be done? >> it is impossible to overstate the impact that riewrnlingruthbader ginsburg on constitutional law. ruth bader ginsburg changed all that. she brought us into this reality where it becomes unthinkable to have these policies that expressly favor men over women. of course what we're seeing today, those sanctions discriminations have largely beestruck down. the same stereotypes, the notion that women ought to be care-givers over workers, and the reverse for men, we see employers, housing providers, other private actors, carrying out those stereotypes, but we know that ruth bader ginsburg, she could participate in an oral argument from her hospital bed, then we can certainly strive to do better with
7:19 pm
every day we have. >> an extraordinary life and legacy she leaves behind. thank you to both of you, brenda and rita, for joining us to remember it. >> people ask me sometimes, when do you think it will be enough? when will the be enough women on the court? and my answer is: when there are nine. [laughter] some people are taken aback, until they remember in most of history there were only men on the high court bench. >> woodruff: our next guest ew ruth bader ginsburg through their work and sometimes professionally. the lawyers, who faced her at the bench, as well as her friends. lisa black serves as chair of the williams and connelly law firm supreme
7:20 pm
court and appellate practice, and she teaches also the george bushtown law. paul clement served as solicitor general under george w. bush, and he is a partner at the law firm kirkland and ellis. and federal judge margaret mcewen serves on the ninth circuit court of appeals and joins us from san dio. we are so glad to have all of you. thank you for being here. the first thing i want to ask each one of you: how did you know her? how did your lives intersect. lisa black? >> i met her when i was her laclerk starting in the spring of 1989. it was her 10th year anniversary on the d.c. rcuit, and i've kept in touch with her over the last 30 years. >> when i was a law student at georgetown in 1975, i took a seminar on sex discrimination. there was not a lot of
7:21 pm
material, so one of the professors suggested i write to justice ruth bader ginsbu at columbia. i did that, and she was very generous in sending me back papers and comments. that was just the beginning of many small kind necessary over the kindnesses over the years. >> woodruff: paul, what about you? >> i ran into ruth bader ginsburg on my first year on the court, but my principle interaction with her has been in arguing dozens of cases in front of the court and with justice ginsburg serving. >> woodruff: lisa black, i don't think i read anything about justice ginsburg that didn't mention her work ethic. what was it about that? >> she was a perfectionist, and i think it was very important to her to always be ahead of the game, and never having her colleagues wait on her. so her work ethic was also at least a little odd
7:22 pm
because she would come into the office late and work extremely late hours at night. so the law clerks would long be gone and she would still be in chambers working. >> woodruff: and judge mcewen, you knew her for many years. some people would say for someone so brilliant, why did she have to work so hard? >> i think she loved the law, frankly. i remember one time we were teaching together, and she invited me over to her pool for some fun. well, what that meant was that my husband and son and i and marty had fun, and she had a big hat on and wrote a law review article. she loved the law. and she did it because she wanted to and because she was such a careful, careful crafts person. >> woodruff: and marty, of course, was her husband. he was a lawyer with a great career in his own right. paul clement, you mentioned how many times you went before her, not only as solicitor general, but also in private
7:23 pm
practice. but what was it line to go before justice ginsburg at the court? >> well, it was intimidating, and obviously not because of her physical presence in the courtroom, but because of her intellectual presence, and because, as lisa mentioned, she was such a hard worker and such perfectionist, that you knew she knew the record in your case backwards and forwards. so as an avocate, you better know the case equally well or justice ginsburg would show all of the holes in your case. >> woodruff: lisa black, pick up on that. >> justice ginsburg is well-known for her beaming. she had this small presence but this gargantuan smile. she would often beam at the advocates, and then ask extremely piercing questions. she is very much known for her attention to detail at oral argument, extremely focused on the record and the procedural posture and
7:24 pm
what the court she was reviewing did. >> woodruff: and judge mcewen, you were telling us about, i think what you called her economy of writing. of course she wrote so many opinions. what did you mean by that? >> what i mean is, she never uses three words when she could use one. more importantly, i think is not only the economy of writing, she did focus on details without getting lost. but she never had a mean pen. she was never costic. she was never dismissive ofer colleagues, and that is certainly a lesson that i took from her in being in the judiciary. so even if you look at her very, very forceful dissents, they are written with clarity, and they're written with great respect. >> wdruff: and paul clement, pick up on that. she wrote opinions, in an attempt, at times, to bring others on board. how did you see that as someone who was coming often to these cases fro
7:25 pm
another perspective? >> well, oftentimes justice ginsburg would surprise you because you would come into the case thinking that she was a vote you were unlikely to get, and in some cases because she loved the law, and in some cases because she was obsessed with things like jurisdiction, that she would want to make sure the court had jurisdiction before getting to the merits, you would find her ammeable to your argument, even when you weren't expecting it. and in other cases, you had the feeling that when she was asking you the question, it wasn't just because she had the question, but she had, in the back of her mind a thought about how to get a fifth justice on to her opinion. >> woodruff: lisa black, there are so many women, and i'm included, who look what she did and marvel, of course, in many ways. she was a brilliant jurists, and she was on the court for as long as she was. she had a wonderful
7:26 pm
family. she loved the opera. she was at the theater. she had dinner with friends. she loved to travel. how did she do it all? >> justice ginsburg was tireless and she loved life. she loved the law, as the judge said. she loved her family, she loved her hobbies, he loved her husband, she loved her children and grandchildren. she never wanted to slow down. she absolutely loved what she was doing. i remember asking her when she became a supreme court justice, the first time i had seen her, and i said, justice ginsburg, how do you like being a justice? and she said, "what's not to like?" >> woodruff: paul clement, what would you say is her greatest legacy? >> i thk her legacy, in a word, is "equality." i think with justice ginsburg, you can't just look at her time on the bench when assessing her legacy, but you have to go back to her time as an advocate. she was looking to
7:27 pm
vindicate principles of quality, particularly for women, throughout her legal career. as the justice said, unlike most supreme court justices, justice ginsburg was famous as a lawyer before she ever came to the bench, because of her work as an advocate. the quality thread really goes through her entire career. >> she inspired so many women as an unlikely messenger because of her size, and she has this out-sized personality and willingness to speak out. she had this wonderful relationship throughout her career with judges that were different from her and more conservative. >> woodruff: finally, judge mcewen, you told us she was never bitter. she just kept plugging and pushing ahead. was that really necessary in her life? >> absolutely. she had been discriminated against. she understood the real-world consequences of that. but i totally agree her
7:28 pm
time as an advocate shaped how she saw cases. she was an incrementalist who actually started a revolution. what struck me towards the end, as this notorious r.b.g. phenomenon swept the country, she actually embraced it because i think she knew that she was an inspiration for so many. and not just in the past, lawyers, judges, small children, boys and girls, but for those in the future. so to my mind, she had a vision and a playfulne that permitted her to combine that with the utmost seriousness about the law. >> woodruff: judge margaret mcewen, paul clement, and lisa black, we thank all three of you for helping us remember justice ginsburg. we appreciate it. >> my approach, i believe, is neither liberal nor
7:29 pm
conservative. rather, it is rooted in the place of the judiciary of judges, in our democratic society. the constitution's preamble speaks first of "we the people," and then of their elected representatives. the judiciary is the third in line, and it is placed apart from the political fray so that its members can judge fairly, impartially, in accordance with the law, and without fear about the animosity of any pressure group. >> woodruff: that was from justice ginsburg's supreme court confirmation hearing in 1993. at this moment, there are plenty of pressure groups stakg claims before the next confirmation, and it is already at the center of today's political fray. john yang explores where
7:30 pm
things stand. >> judy, as president trump prepares to name a nomie at the white house, in the senate the battle lines are being drawn, and at the supreme court, the eight remaining adjustments are preparing for a new session without their colleue, ruth bader ginsburg. for a look at where things stand in each of those places, we are joined by lisa desjardins, our white house correspondent yamiche alcindor, and our marsha coil, who is the chief washington correspondent for the national law journal. welcome to all of you. lisa, i want to start with you. the president's anuncement, the white house tells us, will come a week and a day after ruth bader ginsburg's death. should we expect to see the same swift pace on the hill when the senate takes up the nomination? >> john, this will be one of the fastest confirmations we've seen in decades. here is what we expect the timeline to look at.
7:31 pm
let's look at a graphic. the next two weeks, these are the weeks where we expect senators will have time to evaluate te nominee, that includes meetings with the nominee. and, john, that could likely be over skype or zoom because of the pandemic. the senate is technically on recess for some of this time. also, this overlaps with the presidential season, and the presidential debates will be starting. it is going to be a busy two weeks of trying to analyze this nominee and get ready for what happens next. we'll look at that. the next two weeks in october are when we expect hearings will be going on. we don't have a firm link on that yet, but we do think there will be hearings and a committee vote that will be dramatic. we also don't believe that the public will be allowed to go to these hearings because of the pandemic, but, of course, there will be a lot of viewership online and over the air. all of that, john, leads to the final senate vote, which we are told is
7:32 pm
expected now the end of october. that's the last week of the month, and also the week right before the election, john. so this will be right up against the final voting for americans for president. >> and yamiche, from your reporting at the white house, what are you hearing about who the leading candidates are? >> the president says hat there are five leading candidates, five women, he says, that are on his list. he, of course, is going to be making that announcement on saturday. it is going to be a real event at the white house, to see him roll out. here are two of the people i want to talk to you about specifically because they're top of the list. the first is amy coney barrett. she is a federal court appeals judge for the seventh circuit in chicago, a former clerk to the late justice antonin scalia. she is really seen as a favorite of social conservatives and people who are anti-abortion. another person to think of is barbara lagoa. she is a federal court
7:33 pm
appeals judge for the 11th circuit, and she is the first hispanic woman to serve on the board of the supreme court, in 2019. and while on the bench she voted in support of a florida law requiring former felons to pay court fees to be eligible to vote, which some believe was unconstitutional. she maybe isn't as well-known in d.c., but her opinions in the florida case makes her someone the coservatives really like. thpresident insists no matter who he chooses, he believes that person is going to be more than qualified for the bench. >> marsha, what do we know about these two candidates that yamiche has just named? >> judge barrett has more of a record than judge lagoa. she went on to the seventh circuit, which includes the state of indiana, her home state, illinois, and wisconsin. she has been on that bench since president trump appointed her in 2017. and her opinions thus far
7:34 pm
have generally been in line with her conservative etiology. i could mention a couple of her opinions. she dissented in a decision by her court that upheld wisconsin and federal laws barring felons from possessing a handgun. and she wrote in her dissent about the second amendment and how only those who are truly dangerous should be denied firearms, and someone who is a former felon cannot be said to be truly dangerous. she also recently upheld -- she would have upheld president trump's so-called public charge immigration rule, which has been quite controversial and has encountered lots of problems in the lower courts. barbara lagoa is something of an enigma. she went through the sete confirmation to the
7:35 pm
11th circuit by a vote of 80-15, that is quite a lot of support. the 11th circuit includes florida, geoia, and alabama. other than the felon voting rights decision that yamiche just mentioned, really don't know much about where she is. she only was on the florida supreme court for, i think, just shy of one year, although she spent 13 years on an termediate state appellate court. she is a former federal prosecutor. she is married with three children. barrett is married with seven children. and barrett, by the way, would also be, if confirmed, the youngest justice to join the supreme court at age 48, the youngest since clarence thomas joined the court at age 43in 1991. but i thinthey are all quite firm in their
7:36 pm
conservative etiology. >> and they can expect to remain on the court for many years to come. if this timeline holds that lisa spelled out at the beginning of this discussion, we could well have a full complement, nine justices on the bench, perhaps by election day. the new ninth justice is going to hit some big issues right off the bat. >> yes. the court would probably have eight justices in its first sitting for oral arguments, and that would be the first two weeks in october. but you're absolutely right, in november the court starts hearing arguments in some of the biggest cases of the term. right off the bat, the week after the election, the court will hear the state of the affordable care act once again. it also has ready for argument a very important case involving religion and lgbtq rights. and there is also an ongoing battle between the
7:37 pm
house judiciary committee and the trump adminiration over access to grand jury records in the special council robert mueller's investigation, russia investigation. and also, the census, the latest census dispute has reached the supreme court, and the justices have yet to decide if they're going to step into it. the eighth justice court will face a number of election-related disputes. it is not unusual at this time for the court to get emergency applications from states, from those challenging state restrictions on vote. we're seeing a lot of that right now in the lower courts, on absentee ballots, t number of drop boxes that are there are other issues as well. >> lots of issues ahead for marsha coyle, lisa desjardins, and yamiche alcindor, our own all-star lineup.
7:38 pm
thank you very much. >> to amendments to our constitution and court decisions, applying those amendments, we a abolish slavery, and made men and women people of equal citizenship stature. in the vanguard of those professions, are people just like you. new americans of every race and creed, making ever more vibrant our national moto: "t of many, one." so whave made huge progress. it is the work of perfection that is scarcely done. many stains remain in this rich land. nearly a quarter of our
7:39 pm
children live in poverty. nearly half of our citizens do not vote. and we still struggle to achieve greater understanding and appreciati of each other, across racial, religious, and socio-economic les. yet we strive to realize the ideal to become a more perfect union. >> woodruff: justice ginsburg, despite her tiny physical stature, had an out-sized work ethic, that extended to her personal life and her ability to foster friendships. amna nawaz is back to examine that side of her. >> judy, that ability wa exemplified in her relationship with the justice antonin scalia. to explore this seemingly unlikely friendship, we're joined by christopher scalia, son of the late justice. thanks for being with us.
7:40 pm
i have to ask you, the bond between those two was really one for the ages. in many ways, they couldn't have been more different. what was it, you think, that drew them together, to be so close? >> i think it was a number of things. first of all, they just had a good working relationship. they enjoyed working with each other, as different as their opinions so often were. they formed what my father called a mutual improvement society, even though, again, they were often on different sides of these opinions, but they liked helping each otheout, writing better sentences and stronger argunts. and they had some personal things in common. they were born in new york, different boroughs and a few years apart, and they loved opera. their spouses were very good friends. marty ginsburg was basically a gourmet chef and my mother is a really good cook, so they were enjoy swapping recipes, and my father often enjoyed the spoils of those recipes.
7:41 pm
and they made each other laugh. i don't think many people made justice ginsburg laugh out loud. her husband was one and my father was another. she used to say when they were on the d.c. court of appeals, they sat next to each other, and he would whisper jokes to her, and she would have to pinch herself from disrupting the court with laughter. >> we uncovered this clip i want to share with you. they appeared at a press club event. ad here is what they had to say. >> we agree on a whole lot of stuff. ruth is only really bad on the knee-jerk stuff. [laughter] >> she is a good tex textualist. she is terrific. she is obviously very smart. in most cases, i think we're together. >> we agree on many procedures.
7:42 pm
cases, not always. you got one wrong last year. [laughter] >> you pointed out earlier, and they pointed out as well,they did disagree, often on her legal cases. it was one her few majority opinions, the 1996 decision thatound the virginia military institute's men-only admission violated the constitution's equal protection club. your father was the sole dissent. did any of those arguments test their friendship? >> i think they found a way to recognize when they disagreed, they were disagreeing with ideas. she had said about that particular dissent it kind of ruined her weekend. my father gave her his draft earlier than usual, and she said when she got to draft, it was kind of a burden to spond to. even the fact he did that, it w in a way helping her argument, to make sure she would have time to respond to his points. i should add she gave as
7:43 pm
good as she got. she dished it out. she didn't hold back when she disagreed with his opinions. but they knew they were arguing with ideas; they weren't making personal attacks. i think that made it relatively easy for them to maintain their friendship and focus on the things they had in common. >> christopher, i have to ask, it has been about four years sce you lost your father. we all remember the ugly political fight that followed. we're in a similar moment now, some would argue even uglier, perhap i wonder how you are viewing this moment now anwhat could come in the weeks and months ahead, after seeing what happened four years ago. >> it is going to be a pretty intense battle, there is no doubt about that. this week, and since justice ginsburg's passing, i tried to not think about that too much and insteadind of remember and talk about eir friendship. >> that is christopher scalia, the son of the late justice antonin scalia, joining tnl.
7:44 pm
tonight. thank you so much for spending time to remember ruth bader ginsburg. >> my pleasure. thank you for having me. >> once asked how we could be friends given our disagreement on lots of things, justice scalia answered: "i attack ideas; i don't attack people." some very good people have some very bad ideas. [laughter] >> woodruff: bad or good, there is a long history of argument over ideas at the supreme court. justice ginsburg unquestionably left her mark on the bench and her replacement may well drive it in a new direction. how does this current shift compare to other important moments in the high court's 230-year history. we explore that with barbara perry, a presidential scholar at the university of virginia's center, a former judicial fellow at the supreme court, and the author of "the supremes:
7:45 pm
an introduction to the u.s. supreme court justices." barbara perry, thank you very much for joining us. i want to start by talking about judge ginsburg's nomination to the court. it was 1993, it was two years afr the contentious clarence thomas hearings, with anita hill. >> at first what become justice breyer was seemingly at the top of the list. he was being pushed very hard by senator edward kennedy, who was a long-time friend and supporter of his. but he did hav didn't have a vey good interview with bill clinton, and so they moved down the list to ruth bader ginsburg. i think the fact she was a woman really helped in the wake of the clarence thomas situation, as you mentioned. >> woodruff: and she was confirmed by a big margin?
7:46 pm
>>6-3, one of the last uncontentious votes in the senate on a supreme court nominee. >> woodruff: in this modern era, is it fair to say, barbara perry, that the court has led public hundred or has it followed public opinion? how would you answer that? >> it has done both, depending on where it was. so sometimes it's behind public opinion, and it can get into trouble that way, as it was during the new deal period. obviously we elected f.d.r. in 1932, and he had a vast majority of democrats in the congress. and they started passing new-deal legislation in the first 100 days, and as soon as they would get them passed, somebody would challenge them and the supreme court would strike them down. sometimes they lead. brown versus board of education, perfect example. marriage equality, most recently, where they get out in front of public opinion or follow public opinion and are ahead of
7:47 pm
where other branches of the government are. >> woodruff: so bringing it up today, after many years from seeing the court pretty closely divided between liberals and conservatives, we seem to be on the cusp of a 6-3 pretty solid conservative majority. what should the american people expect, do you think? >> i think they are going to need to expect that in those cases that they care the most about, on the left and the right, and the center, that is though so-called hot-button political issues of reproductive rights, race, gender, religion, all of the things people care about a lot, we're probably going to see 6-3 splits, maybe 5-4 as chief justice roberts has been playing more of an institutionalist, where he ll sometimes switch over to the liberal side, or justice gorsuch did, involving the '64 civil rights act. >> woodruff: as the
7:48 pm
court moves to become significantly conservative in the maturity majority, and theory talking a lot more about it. we heard justice breyer saying he is open to the idea of term limits for justices. he talked about 18 years. what about whether it is term limits or adding to e number of justicing, justice-- >> firl first of all, if it were term limits, it would have to be a constitutional amendment. to change the membership, the number of people on the court, congress can do that because that is not set in the constitution. it has been at nine since 1869, but it could be changed. the american people have tended over the years not to like too much fiddling with the court because they have a lot of faith and confidence it because
7:49 pm
the justices have done a good job over the years. they know they're generally trying to get above the muck and meyer politics. people don't really lie it when congress or the president start to fiddle with the way the court was set up. they didn't like it when f.d.r. did it in the 1930s. >> woodruff: is this the biggest fight there has been over the supreme court? or is this typical? does this happen every once in a while in american history? >> the fact of the matter is this happens particularly when the court is evenly divided on a partisan and ideological split. and the last time it really happened, inart, s justice o'connor's leaving. justice alito going into that psition, there was an attempt of a filibuster led by senator kennedy and senator kerry. it didn't succeed for that 1987 controversy, where he was actually denied confirmation from a reagan
7:50 pm
appointment led by senator ted kennedy as well. when a swing seat is at issue, it really causes the politics around the appointment to be terribly fraught. not to mention we have a presidential election in the midst of this one as well. >> woodruff: in the middle of a presidential election, in fact very close to a presidential election, but your point is this has happened before? >> it has happened before. everything that seems new is actually quite old. >> wayne >> woodruff: barbara perry, an historian, thank you very muc >> thank you, judy. >> women's history has been a history of purpos purposeful unequal treatment, based on ster stereotypes, characteristics not indicative of their abilities. >> woodruff: her concern for future generations of american women and other groups often left behind
7:51 pm
has endeared justice ginsburg to many. we hear now from americans across the country about what she meant to them. >> she made it okay to dissent. she made it okay to have a voice. >> people like her paved the way for people like me to just make whatever choices i was interested in. so i didn't have to be pigeonholed in one way or another on the basis of sex. i could just pursue work that i was qualified to do. >> the day that the supreme court came down in favor of marriage, quote, marriy because i have a married gay daughter, it was a day of relief. it was a thousand-pound weight being lifted off my chest. >> i realized how one person with such singular focus could accomplish so much. she not only stands for where we've been but what we have to continue to do. with all of the different groups of people that need
7:52 pm
our support, we can never forget. >> as a woman of color, ruth bader ginsburg really did inspire me to keep pushing forward and just, you know, not be afraid of people who stand in front of you or the obstacle that might be placed ahead of you. for my friends who are my age and younger, they look up to r.b.g. as someone they can emulate in the future and someone they strive to embody one day. >> i just read a book about ruth bader ginsburg, and she's sort of a super hero. she stood up for herself and she is really persistent. >> i've got three sons and a phenomenal daughter who are better when women are elevated and respected, and i think that's what she stood for. that's what stands out about this nation: we're not perfect, but when we look back, it is always people choosing to make a difference, and that's
7:53 pm
what she did. i think even though she is gone, her legacy and impact will live on for generations. >> we can look backwards and say we maybe didn't know this en, but she inspired young women and also young men to pick up the mantel of leadership. it was solely through her as a person. >> now that she is gone, it is going to be, like, really different because we don't have that person to stand up for things. to stand up for things that are wrong. and so we have to do the fighting now for ourselves. >> it is tragic to think about her passing, but it is a beautiful thought to reflect on all of the opportunity that my daughter will have because of the work that justice genginsburg did. >> for my famy, for me, for my daughter, for my grandchildren, for my
7:54 pm
daughter-in-law, the word that comes to me is a blessing. and if i could say to her anything, i would say we are so grateful. >> woodruff: and there were many more grateful people just like those. we close as we began, with ruth bader ginsburg in her own words. >> i would just like people to think of me as a judge who did the best she could with whatever limited talent i have. [laughter] >> she's true to what makes it a great nation, and to make things a little better than they might have been when i hadn't been there. >> woodruff: she cared deeply about her friends. she encouraged young people. she didn't like to cook. and she liked country music as well as opera. a woman for our time.
7:55 pm
as chief justice john roberts said at her service, she won famous victories that helped move our nation closer to equal justice under law. what greater contribution could will be? and that concludes this pbs "newshour" special on justice ruth bader ginsburg andhe future of the court she has left behind. i'm judy woodruff, thank you for joining us. there is much more online, and please stay safe. ♪ ♪ ♪
7:56 pm
>> this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. captioning sponsored by newshour productions, llc captioned by media access group at wgbh
7:57 pm
7:58 pm
7:59 pm
8:00 pm


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on