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Two Days With R.B.G.

September 18th, 2020, 10:36pm by Sam Wang


In 2008 I spent two days hosting Ruth Bader Ginsburg here on campus. The experience was unforgettable. She was kind to all comers, she took questions seriously, even from some neuroscience professor, and she acted like a friend.

I was chair of a committee that brought eminent speakers to campus. We decided to invite Justice Ginsburg to campus. Over a period of weeks, R.B.G. and I exchanged typewritten letters. She treated letters like email – each note was just a few sentences long, dealing with scheduling, honorarium, subject matter, and so on. The committee assistant Sue J. and I taught ourselves about letter etiquette and salutations to members of the judiciary.

Of course the whole thing blew up. Everyone wanted time with her, the event got moved to a larger auditorium, tickets were printed, ceremonial dinners planned. Co-sponsors came out of the woodwork – and handled the logistics; thank you, Law and Public Affairs!

When you host an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, pretty much everything else stops. I did engage with her over dinner on a fraught subject, Bush v. Gore. It was not great to make R.B.G. sad. She was good at making very sad eyes. But otherwise the great majority of the time was ceremonial in nature.

On the last day, we sat together in the drawing room of the campus guest house while she received faculty visitors. One asked how it was that she agreed to come to campus. “Sam invited me. Sam writes the nicest letters.” (Sue, all that Emily Post paid off!)

As she got in the car to leave, she turned to me and said, “Bye, Sam!” I said “Bye, R-” No, I couldn’t. And they drove off.

Bye, Ruth.

Tags: Princeton · Supreme Court

10 Comments so far ↓

  • Beepollen

    That’s a sweet story, Sam. Thanks for sharing.

  • Nff

    Ty Sam. Condolences to us all.

  • Joseph Bland

    Thanks for penning this, Sam, and thanks for your efforts in getting Justice Ginsburg to your campus. It helped to read this today.

    I’ve been thinking about how to best honor her. I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps the best way is to fight against hypocrisy in the votes to replace her. I believe very strongly that we need to punish any Senator in every state of the Union who refuses to commit to not vote for her replacement this year.

    If we truly unite behind this pledge, I believe we can make it far too painful for Senators to take that step, even after the election.

    I also believe that we would make her spirit smile, wherever she now resides.

  • Markus in Sweden

    Thanks Sam for this wonderful anecdote!

  • David Rodland

    Thank you, Sam. For sharing, for hosting her, and for everything else. Thank you.

  • Richard Sun

    Thank you Sam for sharing the story and for inviting and hosting her. I was a young graduate student at the time and seeing and hearing her in person was truly eye-opening and inspirational. She was ferocious but she was fair. And she did it all with class and civility. It saddens me that we’ve lost a champion for the voiceless.
    Rest in peace, RBG.

  • Alice

    Thank you Dr. Wang. If the words of Joe Hill are of any consolation “Don’t mourn, organize.”

    Rest in peace and power, RBG. A grateful nation stands ready to carry the flame.

  • Charles

    Thank you for sharing this vignette. May her memory be a blessing, to us all.

  • 538_Refugee

    It probably wasn’t the Emily Post as much as it showed you cared enough to do the research to get it right. Just a reinforcement of ‘birds of a feather’. Ultimately, content matters and I’m sure she saw her efforts would be appreciated and meaningful.

    Thank you for the Sam for that little glimpse into her character. It was revealing.

  • Kerry Perretta

    Thought I’d wept as much as could for RGB/how she touched us. No: and so grateful for this loveliness. (When saw headline, thought you’d parlayed Gerrymandering scotus visits into …!).

    We treasure this remembrance. Thank you.

    Bye, R

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