Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Harvard Law: A 64-year journey

The late United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was enrolled at HLS from 1956 to 1958. An outstanding student, she was editor of the Harvard Law Review. She also cared for her young daughter, Jane (who graduated from HLS in 1980), and her husband, Martin ’58, who had been diagnosed with cancer. She transferred to Columbia Law School in 1958 when Martin graduated from HLS and got a job in New York. At the time HLS did not allow her to complete her degree requirements at another school. She graduated from Columbia Law School in 1959 at the top of her class and served as editor of the Columbia Law Review.

In the years since, Ginsburg returned to Harvard Law School many times.

Credit: Harvard Law School Yearbook

Group photo of Harvard Law Review members on the steps of Austin Hall

Credit: Harvard Law School Historical & Special CollectionsTop: Ginsburg’s Harvard Law School Yearbook photo. Above: Ginsburg (far right, second row from the top) was a member of the Harvard Law Review Board of Editors in 1957-’58

 

Credit: Bradford Herzog Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to campus in 1978 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Harvard Law’s first graduating class to include women. Her daughter, Jane C. Ginsburg ’80 (right), was then a first-year law student.

 

Classroom filled with women attending celebration 40 with Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the front row.

Credit: Bradford Herzog Ruth Bader Ginsburg (left) takes part in one of the “Celebration 25” sessions in 1978.

 

Credit: HLS Historical & Special Collections In 1982, Ginsburg, then a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, participated as a judge in the final round of the annual Ames Moot Court Competition. She joined Judge John J. Gibbons ’50 of the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Watch video.

 

Credit: HLS Historical & Special Collections Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, and Ginsburg, discussed the role of women in the law at a Harvard Law School event in 1982.

 

Credit: Harvard Law School Historical & Special Collections Students fill an Ames Hall classroom during Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s visit to Harvard Law School in 1982.

 

Credit: Gustav Freedman Sondra Miller ’53 (left), a former judge on the New York State Supreme Court, was a member of Harvard Law School’s first graduating class of women in 1953. Miller, Justice Ginsburg, and Gladys Kessler ’62 (right), then a judge on the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, took part in a panel on women in government during a 1993 HLS “Celebration 40” event, marking the 40th anniversary of women graduates at the law school.

 

Credit: Martha Stewart Justice Ginsburg is greeted by Harvard Law alumnae attending “Celebration 40.”

 

Credit: Martha StewartJustice Ginsburg with Langdell Professor of Law Emeritus Erwin N. Griswold ’28 S.J.D. ’29, under whose deanship the first women were admitted to Harvard Law School. Ginsburg ultimately transferred to and graduated from Columbia Law School after Griswold declined to allow her to complete her final year in New York, where her husband, Martin ’58, was starting a job.

 

Credit: Constance Flavell

Credit: Constance Flavell In 1994, a year after being appointed an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to HLS to preside over the final round of the Ames Moot Court Competition. She was joined by Sam J. Ervin III ’51, chief judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, and Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain ’63, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Jonathan Malis ’95 (left) and David Campbell ’95 were the winning oralists. Watch video.

 

Credit: Ken Heinen A 1995 cover story for the Harvard Law Bulletin, featured eight Supreme Court Justices who attended Harvard Law School. Front row from left: Justices Harry Blackmun ’32, William J. Brennan Jr. ’31 and Lewis F. Powell Jr. LL.M. ’32. Back row from left: Justices David Souter ’66, Stephen Breyer ’64, Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’56-’58, Antonin Scalia ’60 and Anthony Kennedy ’61.

 

Credit: Harvard Law SchoolJustice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to HLS for the 45th celebration of women graduates in 1998, and again for the 50th celebration in 2003. Pictured from left in 2003: Justice Ginsburg; Elizabeth Stong ’82, chairwoman of “Celebration 50”; and then-Dean Robert Clark ’72 on the steps of Austin Hall.

 

Elena Kagan with Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Credit: Harvard Law SchoolThen-HLS Professor Elena Kagan ’86 with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at “Celebration 50” in 2003. In July of 2003, Kagan was appointed the 11th dean of Harvard Law School, where she served until 2009, when she was appointed the 45th solicitor general of the United States. In 2010, she was appointed associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, the fourth woman to become a member of the Court.

 

Credit: Phil FarnsworthJustice Ruth Bader Ginsburg presided over the 2004 Ames Moot Court Competition. She was joined by Judge Reena Raggi ’76, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, and Judge Richard Paez, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Watch video.

 

Credit: Phil Farnsworth

Credit: K CohenTop photo: Then-Dean Elena Kagan ’86 in conversation with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2008 at “Celebration 55,” marking the 55th anniversary of female graduates of Harvard Law School. Bottom photo: Alumnae speak with Justice Ginsburg following her remarks. During the event, Ginsburg recounted the struggles of Belva Ann Lockwood, the first woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court and a role model for female attorneys and judges. “We should appreciate the women on the shoulders of whom we stand—women who said the same thing that we said many years later,” she said. “But we said it at a time when society was willing to listen.”

 

Credit: Tony Rinaldo Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg participates in a conference on gender and the law in 2009 with (from left) Chief Judge Sandra Lynch, 1st Circuit Court of Appeals; then-Judge Nancy Gertner, District Court of Massachusetts; and Linda Greenhouse, journalist.

 

Credit: L. Barry HetheringtonOn Commencement Day, the HLS graduating class of 2011 was treated to a surprise appearance by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who told graduates that she “invited [herself]” to their graduation. Watch video

 

Credit: Martha StewartIn a 2013 talk with then-HLS Dean Martha Minow, Justice Ginsburg recalled the support she received when her husband, Martin “Marty” Ginsburg ’58, fell ill during his third year at HLS, and how their classmates rallied around them. Although HLS declined to grant her a degree when she transferred to Columbia Law School to follow Marty to New York City after he graduated, she said she looked back on her Harvard years with fondness.“The help that we got from our friends here, I will remember all the days of my life,” she said. Above: Justice Ginsburg meets with students following the event.

 

Credit: Martha Stewart

Credit: Martha StewartU.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Judge Merrick B. Garland ’77, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, for the final round of Harvard Law School’s 2013 Ames Moot Court Competition. Watch video.

 

Credit: Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer In 2015, Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg received the Radcliffe Medal from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced study, given to an individual who has had “a transformative impact on society.” In response to a question regarding the advice she would give young women today, Justice Ginsburg said: “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” She reflected on landmark women’s rights cases that she worked on in the 1970s. “The object was to get at a stereotype that held women back from doing whatever their talent would allow them to do,” she said. “The notion was that there were separate spheres for the sexes. Men were the doers in the world and women were the stay-at-home types.” Watch video.

 

Credit: Martha Stewart“It has to be the people who want the change. Without them, no change will be lasting,” reads a banner honoring Ruth Bader Ginsburg which was on display on the HLS campus during HLS 200, the law school’s Bicentennial Celebration in 2017.

 

Credit: Martha Stewart

Credit: Martha Stewart

Credit: Martha Stewart Following the death of Justice Ginsburg on Sept. 18, 2020, tributes overflowed the steps of Langdell Hall at Harvard Law School.