A romance sparked between RBG’s former law clerks, and an artist pays tribute with a memorial.
When Sam Bagenstos heard the news about the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he was in the middle of a Rosh Hashanah service on Zoom, and was instantly overcome with emotion.
“Tikkun Olam is a principle and a practice that mattered a lot to the Justice, and it’s something I think she’s passed along to a new generation, even for those who don’t know or use that term,” Bagenstos said.
Bagenstos, a civil rights lawyer and professor of law at the University of Michigan, served as a law clerk for Ginsburg from 1997-98, and is one of many Detroit-area connections and admirers of Ginsburg mourning her passing last week.
“She was always incredibly meticulous about getting the cases right. She worked 20-hour days and inspired you to work as hard as she did,” Bagenstos said. “We worked on some quite significant cases and some cases nobody has heard of, but she took all the cases equally seriously.”
Ginsburg was appointed to the high court in 1993, and was the first Jewish woman and only the second woman ever to become a justice. Ginsburg was one of the most important figures in fighting for gender equality in U.S. history.
While Ginsburg was known for being stoic and focused, Bagenstos’ experiences with the Justice give a peek into who she was on a personal level, and how much she cared for her law clerk family.
“The first case I argued in front of the Supreme Court, I lost 9-0,” Bagenstos said. “She wrote me a note when the opinion came out about how great I was in the argument, and it was really all about the side I was on, and not about my lawyering. I really appreciated that.”
“Often when I would file a brief in the court, she would write me a little note with some kind of funny joke about a line in the brief I wrote, showing me she had read the brief very carefully,” Bagenstos continued.
Bagenstos married another law clerk of Ginsburg’s, Margo Schlanger, and it was through their shared link to Ginsburg that they connected.
Schlanger was a clerk of Ginsburg’s from 1993-95, and was looking to work at the Justice Department once her clerkship was over. In a conversation with former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who headed the civil rights division of the Justice Department at the time, Ginsburg mentioned Schlanger as someone he should give a job interview to.
In return, Patrick mentioned the name of Bagenstos, a young lawyer at the time working under Patrick, as someone Ginsburg should interview to become one of her clerks. Bagenstos hadn’t even applied for the job. They were both hired in their respective roles.
Bagenstos and Schlanger eventually started going out to lunch every week to maintain open lines of communication.
“One thing led to another and we fell in love, and in the middle of my clerkship I proposed, and Margo said yes,” Bagenstos recalled. “When I told Justice Ginsberg, it really was the happiest I’d ever seen her.”
Schlanger, also a professor of law at the University of Michigan, applied to work for Ginsburg on the DC Circuit prior to her SCOTUS appointment, because Ginsburg was already such a hero in regards to gender rights.
“The guiding principle for Justice Ginsburg was that men and women should be equal, not only when they do the things you’d expect men and women to do, but however they choose to be men and women,” Schlanger said.
“I was a Women’s History major in college. The importance of this kind of an idea about equality was something that I walked into the clerkship thinking that that’s why I wanted to be there learning from her.”
Schlanger wrote a piece for Time magazine after Ginsburg’s death, reiterating what kind of warrior Ginsburg was for equality under the law.
“RBG’s crucial contribution to America was as a stalwart, eloquent fighter for expanding the scope of ‘We the People,’ pushing the United States to be its best self. Whether she wrote in majority or in dissent, her voice on the Supreme Court is irreplaceable,” Schlanger wrote in the piece.
Jonathan Weinberg, a professor of law at Wayne State University, clerked for Ginsburg from 1983-1984, also before she was on the Supreme Court. He also heard about Ginsburg’s death during Rosh Hashanah services on Zoom.
“Before Ruth Bader Ginsberg, it was simply taken for granted that women, legally, were not expected to, did not and could not play the same role in society as men,” Weinberg said. “Ginsburg wasn’t the only person to play a part in changing that, but she played a tremendously important part in bringing us to a world where it’s so much more taken for granted.”
Artist Paints Mural in Honor of Justice Ginsburg
Edward Stross, owner of Roseville’s Gonzo Art Studio, painted a mural over a two-day period honoring Ginsburg, on the brick wall of his Gratiot Avenue building. Stross was influenced by her life’s accomplishments.
“She represents giving people a voice,” Stross said. “She’s a beautiful woman physically and on the inside, and once you start doing someone’s portrait you’re able to look in their face and their eyes and you’re able to become instantly closer to the individual.”
Stross has been painting murals since 1996, but a specific mural he made of Michelangelo’s Creation of Love years ago led to the city ordering him to remove it and eventually taking him to court. His subsequent experiences in the court system gave him a new appreciation of Ginsburg’s work.
“The ACLU took the case, it went all the way up to the State Supreme Court, and I won,” Stross said. “That’s another part of the reason why I did this. I really appreciate the high courts that correct these decisions.”
Stross said he has received some abuse online from people who weren’t fans of Ginsburg, but he is moving forward and weathering the storm, just as Ginsburg would.
“She didn’t allow people to determine what her life was going to be,” Stross said. “She was a fighter for the underdog.”