When Ruth Bader Ginsburg was taken to the Supreme Court to lie in repose, her law clerks were both her pallbearers and served as a kind of honor guard, waiting quietly for her on the steps of the Court. I assume she requested this.
Although now I make my living as a writer, I am an attorney. My mother is an attorney — one of two women in her law school class. This simple scene represents the very best of our profession, and gives me enormous hope for the future, and for my country.
The law in the end is legitimate and respected because it manifests this kind of quiet dignity. Supreme Court clerks are the best of the best, and the fact that this is their public face fills me with optimism. Beneath all the bullshit, and greed, and fighting, this moment is in the best tradition of the profession. This is what real, true justice looks like.
The public mostly hears about the dark side of the legal profession — ethics violations, the endless pursuit of wealth, overlawyering, and so on. Towards the end of her career, Ginsburg became a kind of human brand — the Notorious RBG. Amusing as all this is, it’s beside the point. The real point is that at the top of the pyramid, the essence of the law looks like this.
This represents my Evidence professor, Judge Edmund Spaeth, who ran for public office and returned unspent campaign donations because it would have been wrong to keep them. This represents an elderly lawyer in my small town, Harry Trenin, who loved the law so much that he had a law library in the basement of his home. When he learned I was going to law school, he told me to always remember that “a fact is a rare and valuable thing.” It represents my classmate Wendy Beetlestone, who I had coffee with the day after she was appointed a Federal judge and who was humbled and awed by the responsibility she had just inherited to be fair, impartial and right. It represents my mother’s Trusts and Estates professor fifty years ago at Cornell Law School whose goal throughout his career was simply to produce good lawyers. Not wealthy, powerful or famous lawyers — good ones.
I spent a significant part of my life learning and joining this culture. Seeing this makes me proud of having done that. As an attorney, I’m not fit to tidy Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s office, but in the end, we are still on the same team and we believe in the same unimaginably important things. This picture is admissible evidence of that fact.