RBG: The 'B' is for Box Office

Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a cinematic 2018—but she’s been starring in our pages for a while

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By Amy White on April 19, 2019

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg gets ready for her close-up.

“RBG” was the second-biggest documentary at the 2018 box office. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is ready for her close-up. Again.

In May 2018, the documentary RBG premiered. It grossed $14 million at the box office, the second highest-grossing documentary of 2018. And on Christmas Day, a feature film about Ginsburg opened: On The Basis of Sex starring Felicity Huffman as Ginsburg and Armie Hammer as her husband, tax attorney Martin Ginsburg.

Plus it’s not like she’s exactly been missing from the news.

In November, she fell and fractured three ribs—and the Twitterverse was generous with offering spare parts in response. A month later, the 85-year-old underwent surgery to remove two cancerous growths from her left lung. The growths were detected early and successfully removed, thus rendering Twitterverse’s second round of organ donation moot.

All this Ginsburg news got us thinking about the many times Super Lawyers’ reigning most-wished-for lunch date was name-checked in our pages.  

Ginsburg has become a go-to answer in our brief “Discovery” Q and A, in which we ask—among other things—which Supreme Court Justice would you most like to meet?

Valerie Garcia Hong answered, “The Notorious RBG, because she addresses difficult legal issues in a palatable way that can’t be overlooked as liberal, hyperbolic mumbo jumbo.” Kamilah Holder got straight to it: “You can’t spell truth without Ruth.”

Posting up with RBG in NYC for lunch was the dream scenario of two lawyers.

For Gerry Hinkley, the spot was Carnegie Deli, where he’d split a corned-beef sandwich with Ginsburg: “She has boundless energy; she’s all over the place. I think she’s a terrific role model for diversity in the legal profession.”

Tom Barnard chose Asti. “It’s an Italian restaurant where they had opera singers who were waiters,” he told us. “I would ask Ginsburg about Scalia. I’m sure a lot of people are fascinated by that relationship because of their opposite views and opinions.” Barnard noted he might have gone ahead and sprung for Ginsburg’s bestie—the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia—too. “That was one of their common bonds—[enjoying] opera singing.”

Some lawyers didn’t have to wish for a lunch date—they got to actually gather around Ginsburg’s table. Michael Li-Ming Wong clerked for her in 1995. “While Marty was alive, they’d have the clerks over for dinner,” he told us. “Marty was very jovial and a back-slapper and would make fun of her, and she would just take it. He was an amazing cook and he told stories about how she was a terrible cook and it was decades since she’d been banned from the kitchen.”

Wong remembers being surprised by the justice. “Ginsburg was more petite and soft-spoken than I expected. She was very kind and had really read my writing sample and asked questions about it. She paid attention and absorbed it in a way I hadn’t expected. … When each of my sons was born, Ginsburg wrote them a handwritten letter welcoming them into the world. She had tiny T-shirts printed with the Supreme Court logo at the top and the initials ‘RBG’ and at the bottom ‘Grand Clerk.’ She refers to the children as her ‘grand-clerks.’ I mean, who does that?”

Her friendship with the late Antonin Scalia is often brought up. Laura Brill, who clerked for her in ’96, was struck by Ginsburg’s office. “[It] was filled with art, personal photographs, and objects of sentimental value, including the famous photograph of her and Justice Scalia riding an elephant together in India.” Lauren Hanna was so moved by their friendship that she uses it as a guidepost. “Her friendship with Justice Scalia inspires me to surround myself with friends of all different political philosophies, to avoid living in a self-imposed echo chamber.”

Arguing before Ginsburg was a trip for Jane M.N. Webre. “Justice Ginsburg asked me a question. You really have to pay attention and listen. She has such a soft voice, and she speaks very slowly and [with] really formal syntax. The little voice in my head said, “Hey, Janey, you know that question you’re answering right now? Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked you that question.” And I’m going, “My God, she did!”

We’ll give the final word to legal legend Ted Olson. “She is a person who has a cautious judicial temperament,” he said. “I have great admiration for Justice Ginsburg. She fought her whole life for the rights of women. She is a warrior in the Supreme Court on those issues.”

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