Local attorney Heather A. Eggert was in the nation’s capital last week to pay her respects to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg while lying in repose at the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We had to wait in line for a little under an hour, but it was definitely worth it,” Eggert said. “There were thousands of people there. It was very touching to see how much she meant to so many people.
“I thought it was a well-deserved send off for a true pioneer.”
Ginsburg, a dynamic associate justice on the high court since 1993, was 87 when she died last Friday of complications from pancreatic cancer. The diminutive judge, a Brooklyn native, had been a personal inspiration to Eggert, as well as many of the women whose rights she fought for, she said.
“I could talk for hours about RBG, so I’ll try to rein myself in,” Eggert, an attorney with Henry & Beaver LLP at 937 Willow St., said in an email.
“Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always been a pioneer for women in the legal profession,” she said. “At every stage of her career, the deck was stacked against her because she was a woman, but nevertheless, she persisted. She began law school at Harvard, as one of only nine women in a class of five hundred, at a time when women were not wanted in legal profession and were barely tolerated. She graduated tied for first in her class at Columbia in 1959 and still had great difficulty finding a job. Her struggles and triumphs as a woman in the law illustrate how far we’ve come, but they also remind us of how far we have to go.
“We’ve never had a woman on the bench here in Lebanon County, but I’m very hopeful that this will change within the next ten years.”
Eggert was one of several local lawyers who shared her thoughts this week on Ginsburg’s legacy.
“People always think of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in terms of the work she did for women’s rights, but they often forget that majority of the cases she argued before the Supreme Court in the 1970s dealt with equal rights for men under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment,” Eggert noted. “Her work helped eliminate gender-based distinctions in the Social Security Act, federal laws regarding military spousal dependency, and jury selection laws, just to name a few. She was a true trailblazer for women, but she firmly believed in equal protection under the law for everyone.
“Her death, at such a tumultuous time in our country, will have a tremendous effect on our nation’s highest court and, consequently, on our society for decades to come.”
Michelle R. Calvert, a partner at Reilly Wolfson Law Office, 1601 Cornwall Road, said Ginsburg “was a hero to me and many other women, not only in the legal profession but in society as a whole.”
“From being rejected as a Supreme Court clerk because of her sex to ultimately taking her place on the Supreme Court Bench, she paved the way for female attorneys and other professional women to have their voices heard and to be respected and honored for their accomplishments and contributions in the workplace,” Calvert said. “She also fought tirelessly for all individuals whose thoughts and concerns are too often minimized and dismissed in society, championing her causes in a fierce yet dignified manner that commanded respect.
“We lost not only an amazing woman, but a true and tireless leader, with her death. May she rest in peace.”
Hilary J. Sumner, whose law office is at 752 Willow Street, didn’t always share Ginsburg’s views but admired many of her legal stances.
“While I did not agree with all of her decisions, I do think (Ginsburg) was a powerful force in promoting not only women’s rights but the rights of many groups that have been sidelined over the years,” Sumner said. “Although she was soft spoken, she was never afraid of speaking her mind. She was a velvet hammer among the more boisterous justices and drafted a number of dissents that will likely be cited for years to come.
“Many know that she and Antonin Scalia fostered an incredibly close friendship even though their views on the Constitution and politics in general were completely at odds. This display of respect and acceptance is the quality that I admired the most,” she added. “She had an innate ability to find common ground even with those whose core views did not align with her own. Perhaps this is due to her famous tactic of feigning deafness, but it is a quality that I aspire to achieve in my own interactions. Whether one agrees with her views or not, it is clear that she had a passion for the law.”
Amy B. Leonard, also with Henry & Beaver, said it “is truly difficult to put into words how Ruth Bader Ginsburg influenced women in the legal profession, or to measure the impact she had upon women in general, particularly those in the workplace.
“Frankly, nothing I say will seem adequate,” Leonard said. “What I will say is that she inspired many of us to humbly and passionately champion important causes while maintaining an attitude of respect and collegiality with our fellow attorneys. She showed us that the loudest voice is not always the most persuasive.”
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