In Conversation with Berkeley Law Professor Amanda L. Tyler, Co-Author of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Final Book

April 15, 2021

Shortly before her passing, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg completed her last book, written in collaboration with her former law clerk, Berkeley Law Professor Amanda L. Tyler. In this powerful book, Justice, Justice Thou Shalt Pursue: A Life’s Work Fighting for a More Perfect Union, Justice Ginsburg shares details of her career and life, including notable briefs and oral arguments, her four favorite Supreme Court opinions, many in dissent, and her last speeches. The result is a dramatic illustration of Justice Ginsburg’s unwavering dedication to making our country a “more perfect Union” and her commitment to ensuring that that the US Constitution leaves no one behind.

In partnership with the Women in Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF), Morgan Lewis partner Charlene (Chuck) Shimada sat down with Professor Tyler to discuss Justice Ginsburg’s momentous legacy in this video. Some of the highlights of their conversation are also summarized below.

Media Module - Datasource Item: In Conversation with Berkeley Law Professor Amanda L Tyler

What are some standout memories from your clerkship with Justice Ginsburg?

I was her clerk when she battled cancer for the first time. She had surgery for colorectal cancer just days before opening arguments in the new Term started. Everyone assumed she would not come to the Court and instead hear arguments remotely. But she was on the bench that day, as she was through many other challenging periods. That was a reflection of her love for her job and her dedication to service.

As a boss, she was meticulous and had exceedingly high standards, which drove us all to rise to our very best because she held herself to the same, if not higher, standards than her clerks. She took great care with her words in her opinions. Every word in a draft had to be accomplishing something. And she never lost her dedication to being a teacher. When she edited a draft of yours, she would sit down with you and walk you through why she made the changes she made, line by line. This is an example of how she did not just extract work from us, she mentored us and invested in us, making us much better lawyers along the way.

What role did Berkeley Law Professor and Dean Herma Hill Kay play in the book and in Justice Ginsburg’s life?

The two of them were spurred on by students to create the first casebook on sex discrimination and the law. They essentially created that field of study in the law, which in turn launched Justice Ginsburg’s career and that of so many others fighting for gender equality. When Dean Kay passed away, we created a memorial lecture series for her at Berkeley Law. In the fall of 2019, Justice Ginsburg visited Berkeley Law to deliver the first annual Herma Hill Kay Memorial Lecture in honor of her friend. The book is an outgrowth of this special event and therefore their relationship.

How did Justice Ginsburg feel about not being offered employment from large law firms, and, if she had received an offer, do you think she would have made it a life-long career?

I never sensed bitterness from her about not getting an offer from a law firm early in her career. As she told it, when she went to interviews, she had three strikes against her—she was a woman, she was Jewish, and she was a mother. She spent a summer at one firm and they told her that they weren’t going to hire her because they already had a woman. She sometimes talked about something Justice O’Connor used to say—namely, that if they had both gone to law firms, they would have wound up retired law firm partners and never made it on the Supreme Court. But I am not sure I agree. I think that whatever path the Justice took, she was going to make a difference on a large scale and I think, regardless of her path, she may very well still have wound up on the Supreme Court.

She names four opinions in the book that she’s most proud of, and three of those are dissents. Why?

She said that choosing favorite opinions was like asking which of her grandchildren she loved the most. But when pressed, she named four to include in our book.

One is, of course, her majority opinion in VMI (United States v Virginia). That case opened the Virginia Military Institute to female cadets for the first time in the institution’s history. When Justice Ginsburg was writing the majority decision for the court, she relied on many of the hard-fought gender discrimination victories that she had won throughout the 1970s. She was also proud of that opinion because it lays out how she thought the Constitution should be interpreted—that it should be inclusive and create opportunities for all persons to reach their full human potential.

The three other opinions she included were dissents. I think she included these on purpose as a call to arms of sorts to inspire people to keep up those fights. When she wrote dissents, after all, she said she was writing for a future age.

What do you believe was her greatest legal legacy as a jurist?

She believed the law could be a force for good and for opening up opportunity. Take her Shelby County dissent, involving the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a rather timely subject. There, she talks about the importance of the law as a vehicle for fostering equal citizenship.

In one of her final speeches, moreover, she said that what makes America great is not that we are somehow more enlightened than others, it’s that we have the ability to correct our mistakes and evolve and change. She celebrated that work and hoped that others would keep it going.