As Amy Coney Barrett prepared for her swearing-in as a U.S. Supreme Court justice in Washington, D.C., Carina Franck, left, and Meg Kiernan led off a march a few minutes ago from Cooperstown Village Hall, up Main Street to the county courthouse. Susie Knight, inset, carries a sign that captures the message: “RGB Cannot RIP.” The message contrasts the legacy of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a supporter of Roe v. Wade who died last month, with Judge Barrett, her replacement, who is expected to be more open to abortion curbs. Annually for 10 years before COVID, Justice Ginsburg led an “Opera and the Law” presentation at the Glimmerglass Festival. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
We mourn Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second female justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Born in Brooklyn in 1933, she taught at both Rutgers and Columbia, and became Columbia’s first tenured female professor. She was director of the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU during the 1970s, and argued six important cases on gender equality before the Supreme Court, winning five of them.
President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1980, and Bill Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court in 1993.
Her intelligence, intensity and persistence remain an inspiration to millions of women here and around the world, and to all who believe in gender equality. She will be rightfully honored and remembered not only for all the doors she opened for women, but also for her gender-blind positions on all law. Initially regarded as a moderate to liberal justice, she became a liberal bulwark as the court moved to the right.
Ginsburg brought a substantive legal mind to and was a force on the court. She is perhaps best remembered for her dissenting opinion in the case of Bush v. Gore, which decided the 2000 presidential election. Disagreeing with the court’s majority opinion in favor of Bush, Ginsburg concluded her objection with “I dissent,” a not-so-subtle and cutting departure from the traditional “I respectfully dissent.”
Her celebrity most likely began then. She became a celebrity in many parts of our world, from law schools to SNL skits. She enjoyed unprecedented publicity for any justice of the Supreme Court. Even locally, Ginsburg’s love for opera and her talks at the Glimmerglass Festival made her a celebrity in Otsego County.
Having said that, I want to consider the idea of celebrity. Supreme Court justices are seldom celebrities, though many are considered illustrious, from Warren to Douglas to Scalia – and often regardless of their politics. Yet in my 71 years no Supreme Court justice attained the level of celebrity and fandom as did Ginsburg. Douglas came close, and he was revered by many for his 36 years on the bench. Yet in 1975 he retired at age 77.
Ginsburg did not retire when Obama was president, even though she was into her ’80s and had been through several bouts of cancer. When the suggestion that she might retire was raised, she asked the question: ”Who do you think that the President could nominate that could get through the Republican Senate? Who would you prefer on the court rather than me?” Since the President appoints, not the Senate, he could have gotten a nominee through, even with compromises. If Ginsburg had retired at 80 Obama would have had four years to replace her.
Even for the best of us, celebrity and fame comes with the lure of hubris.
Today we face an almost certain third Trump nominee, setting the stage on the court for another 20 years. Any non-celebrity, moderate judge that Obama might have appointed would have been preferable to this situation. Ginsburg did us no favor by staying on, regardless of all the love for her and her resultant celebrity.
The media-driven fame game is part of what is rotting our nation and society. It needs to be corralled. Public servants should do their duty and then go, opening the way for others. The Congress, Presidency, Vice Presidency, and the Supreme Court offer a grand total of 546 seats. In a nation of 330,000,000 we can certainly find other intelligent, capable, and – yes – persistent people to fill those seats. Even on the U.S. Supreme Court.
COOPERSTOWN – One summer, while visiting Cooperstown, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader
Ginsberg had a request for her friend, Kay Pierro.
“She wanted to go waterskiing!” Pierro said.
“So I asked around for a friend who had a boat to take her on, but (federal marshals) needed to follow in a second boat, so I had to ask around for another.
“She tried so hard to get up, but the skis we had were too long for her.”
Ginsburg, 87, who has starred in an “Opera & Law” presentation every summer since 2013 (except this one) at the Glimmerglass Festival, died Friday, Sept 18, from pancreatic cancer.
Pierro first met Ginsburg when Jane Forbes Clark hired her to cook for the justice and her husband, Marty, who were staying in Miss Clark’s guest house for the weekend in 2004.
“My husband always called it ‘the improbable friendship,’” Pierro said. “She was a Supreme Court justice and I was just a cook, but she was the kindest, warmest, most gentle person I have ever known.”
They stayed in contact for years, and Ginsburg frequently invited her to events, including to the Supreme Court itself and to the unveiling of her portrait at the New England School of Law in Boston. “My son graduated from there, and when she found out, she invited us both to the ceremony,” said Pierro. “She would bring me gifts back from Europe, and we would write to each other.”
Glimmerglass’ music & general director, Francesca Zambello, had struck up a friendship with Ginsburg after she directed Beethoven’s “Fidelio” at the National Opera House in 2003.
“She wrote me a letter and said it was her favorite production of ‘Fidelio’ that she had ever seen,” Zambello said.
“I saw her at the Washington National Opera right before the pandemic,” she continued. “And she had her tickets reserved for this year’s Glimmerglass Festival. We’re all mourning her passing.”
When Zambello became head of the Festival in 2010, she invited Ginsburg and her family to attend the shows. “She had visited when Paul Kellogg was director, but we began talking about doing a program about opera and the law, since so many of them involve contracts and wrong-doing,” she said.
“And I thought, how wonderful it would be if I could engage her in our love of opera together in a way the public could appreciate.”
The program started in 2013 and was a sell-out every summer. “It was one of our most successful programs,” she said.
In 2017, the Festival produced “Scalia/Ginsburg,”
a comic opera about the friendship between Ginsburg and fellow Justice Antonin Scalia.
“After one performance, she came and spoke about him, which was great,” said Zambello. “He never visited Glimmerglass, but I would see him at the National Opera, and they would sit on opposite sides of the aisle. They disagreed all day, but at night they would share this passion for opera.”
Following the news of her death, a vigil was held on the steps of the Otsego County Courthouse, where Village Trustee Richard Sternberg and Dave Pearlman, retired CCS high school principal, led the gathering in Kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayer of mourning.
“People were very moved,” said Sternberg.
Sternberg had met Ginsburg several times; his cousin was a protégée and student of her husband, Marty Ginsburg, at Columbia Law School. “When my nephew was born, I found myself standing next to a short, very slight lady at his bris,” Sternberg said. “She was introduced to me as Judge Ginsburg, but I didn’t think much of it.”
He saw her at several other events, including his nephew’s Bar Mitzvah. “She was a Supreme Court justice then, and I made the connection,” he said. “I didn’t say much, which was unusual for me.”
At his niece’s Bat Mitzvah, he overheard another woman ask about the famous lace on her collar. “She told the story that she and Sandra Day O’Connor thought that since Judge (William) Rehnquist put gold stripes on his robes, that they would put lace on theirs as a response,” he said.
Though he often saw Ginsburg at the Festival, he declined to introduce himself again. “I was intimidated, plus she had bodyguards,” he said.
Zambello said the Festival is beginning to look at ways to honor her legacy during next year’s season.
“She loved the Festival and was very proud of what we were doing with social justice,” she said. “But she also loved a good ‘La Boheme.’ She really was our greatest spokesperson.”
“We had a wonderful relationship,” said Pierro. “She was a real treasure.”
As many people may know, the Young Artist Program at the Glimmerglass Festival is an integral part of our work. One of our recent alumni, Alexandria Shiner (last seen as Bertha in the Barber of Seville 2018), went on to become part of the Cafritz Young Artist Program at the Washington National Opera and to win the first prize of the Met auditions.
A few weeks before COVID closed everything, Ali took the lead role in a version of Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Consul” in the Supreme Court’s private chambers. The opportunity came about because Justice Ginsburg held occasional musicales at the Court, carrying on a tradition started by Sandra Day O’Connor.
Rob Ainsley, the director of the Cafritz Young Artist Program, and I wanted to do something different than just a concert. We asked Justice Ginsburg if we could present a one-hour version of “The Consul,” an opera that deals with immigration issues not unlike those currently being hotly debated.
We had already presented the opera in various locations as a kind of outreach work, but all these were previews leading up to what we felt would be our most important showing of the piece.
We arrived in the morning to rehearse in the chambers like a funny band of traveling players carrying our costumes and props into the Supreme Court.
How strange – and how moving – to be telling this story of political dissidents, government overstep and visa frustrations before an audience of men and women who had sworn to uphold our country’s ideals.
RBG always loved meeting the new young artists and this was a special year. I still remember Ali, as Magda, staring into the eyes of one justice after another as she sang these words:
To this we’ve come: that men withhold the world from men. No ship nor shore for him who drowns at sea. No home nor grave for him who dies on land.
To this we’ve come: that man be born a stranger upon God’s earth, that he be chosen without a chance for choice, that he be hunted without the hope of refuge.
To this we’ve come. (To the Secretary) And you, you too shall weep! If to men, not to God, we now must pray, tell me, Secretary, tell me, who are these men? If to them, not to God, we now must pray…
Who are these dark archangels? Will they be conquered? Will they be doomed? Is there one, anyone behind those doors to whom the heart can still be explained? Is there one, anyone, who still may care? Tell me, Secretary, tell me!
As she threw the papers in the air screaming “Papers, Papers,” the room felt electric. I shall never forget this, nor will anyone there.
RBG, with a wink, told me how she loved the simple and direct performance of “The Consul” so close to the halls of justice. I am grateful for all she gave to our Festival over the past decade.
COOPERSTOWN – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will once again be on hand to speak about her passion for opera and her perspective on law in the arts at The Glimmerglass Festival next July.
This is Justice Ginsburg’s sixth time presenting at The Glimmerglass Festival. She last appeared in 2017, when she spoke following a performance of Derrick Wang’s opera Scalia/Ginsburg. Her talk will also feature members of the Glimmerglass Young Artists Program enacting selected scenes that deal with law and justice.
COOPERSTOWN – Don’t despair, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reassured her fellow Americans in an almost full 914-seat Alice Busch Opera Theatre this afternoon: Today’s dissents are often tomorrow’s majorities.
“Our Constitution has not changed, but our interpretation of it has become more perfect,” said the dean of the high court, an opera fan who has spoken to fellow fans at an annual fundraiser for five years now. The 5-foot-1 jurist – arguably, she has now spent more time in Otsego County than any justice since Cooperstown’s Samuel Nelson – was greeted with a standing ovation, wild applause and cheers; the audience gave an encore at the end.
Ginsburg’s remarks on the Constitution came during a Q&A following a 90-minute “matinee” featuring nine opera selections that related to the law, ranging Bizet’s “Carmen” to Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking” to “Stay, Frederic, Stay,” from “The Pirates of Penzance,” with observations by the justice in between.