September 18, 2020
Amanda L. Tyler,
Shannon Cecil Turner Professor of Law, University of California, Berkeley School of Law
Justice Ginsburg was defined by her brilliance, her dedication to her work, her resilience, and her unwavering devotion to taking up the Founders’ calling, set out in the Preamble to our Constitution, to make ours a “more perfect Union.”
I consider one of the single greatest privileges and honors of my life to have served as Justice Ginsburg’s law clerk. She was my idol. How many people get to say that they worked for their idol?
One of my favorite stories comes from the year that I clerked for her. I joined the Justice’s chambers in the summer of 1999. The initial excitement of working for her soon turned to concern, for in the weeks leading up to the formal commencement of the Court’s Term that year, the Justice had her first bout with cancer. I recall vividly how the press simply assumed that her surgery and extensive treatment regimen begun just days before the formal start of the Term would keep her home and that she would listen to recordings of the arguments instead of attending them. As things turned out, I was fortunate enough to be first to arrive in chambers on the morning of October 4, 1999—the first day of oral arguments that Term—and this meant I was the one who answered the phone when the Justice called chambers from her car that morning. “Amanda,” she told me, “call the Chief’s chambers and make sure they know I’m coming.”
This story speaks volumes about the Justice’s courage, tenacity, and commitment to her life’s work. That same commitment has carried her through her subsequent battles with cancer and, if I had to guess, had her reading briefs right up until the very end. She was a profoundly dedicated public servant in no small measure because she appreciated just how important her role was to ensuring that our Constitution belongs to everyone. Whether as an advocate or a Justice, she tirelessly fought discrimination and more generally to open opportunities for every person to live up to their full human potential.
I am reminded today how her dear friend, former Berkeley Law Dean Herma Hill Kay, testified at her confirmation hearings that “[i]n Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the president has offered the country a justice worthy of the title.” I could not agree more.