The world lost a 5-foot giant yesterday. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a legal, cultural, and feminist icon who was the architect of the legal fight for gender equality in the 1970s and subsequently served decades on the nation’s highest court. And while her fervent words, both on and off the Court, blew down the walls of legal inequality, Justice Ginsburg was never without her sense of humor.
Indeed, who can forget Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address when Justice Ginsburg fell asleep in the audience. Rather than take the Fifth, she wholeheartedly admitted she wasn’t “100 percent sober.” As the story goes, Justice Kennedy brought in a few bottles of Opus One for the Justices’ dinner prior to the event. And while she vowed to drink just sparkling water that evening, “in the end, the dinner was so delicious, it needed wine.”
Food and wine have been woven into the fabric of the Court since its earliest days. In the early 1800s, the Supreme Court was in session for a few months a year — not long enough for the justices to haul their families to the District. So, the justices lived, ate, and deliberated cases together under the same roof in a boarding house. At the time, Chief Justice Marshall wanted to build the bonds between the justices.
While the boarding house is long gone, food (and wine) remain a unifying force. The justices lunch together when Court is in session, bring snacks to share, toast each other on their birthdays, and plan welcoming feasts for new justices. And through these celebrations, discussion of cases is faux pas. Instead, there is talk of books, vacations, grandchildren, funny stories, and life. As Justice Sotomayor put it, “just the normal type of conversation that people have who want to get to know each other as individuals.” Fittingly, wine is often at the heart of those gatherings (at least when they’re off-the-clock). Chief Justice Marshall started the tradition when he used to bring “private label” bottles of Madeira to the boarding house for the justices to share. He said it was strictly for medicinal purposes or when it was raining. Justice Ginsburg is famed for telling the story that Marshall “looked out the window, and the sun [was] shining brightly, and he said, ‘Somewhere in the world it’s raining.’”
Justice Ginsburg, today we toast you and thank you. You once said, “[r]eal change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” You marched miles. It is my strongest hope that my daughters, and every daughter and every son, continue the march.
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