Ginsburg confidante recalls how Supreme Court justice handled her fame

A longtime friend of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday after battling complications related to pancreatic cancer, recalled on “CBS This Morning: Saturday” how he saw her public profile rise over the last decade to cultural icon status. 

However, that was “nothing compared to her current celebrity,” when she became an internet meme and social media star after the 2016 election.

“She was amused by it, and it didn’t change her,” said George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen, author of “Conversations with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law.”

Fans and admirers affectionately dubbed Ginsburg “the Notorious R.B.G.,” a nod to the rapper “Notorious B.I.G.” 

Rosen noted, though, that at first she “didn’t know who the Notorious B.I.G. was.” 

“Her law clerks had to tell her, basically,” he said, laughing. 

“She was so surprised when people would stop her on the street and ask her to take selfies,” Rosen said.

“Remember, she was a judge’s judge,” he said. “She had been really under the radar even when she joined the Supreme Court.”

Ginsburg was appointed to the court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. Before that, she spent years as a law professor and founded the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, where she won five out of six cases she argued before the Supreme Court.

The justice lived to see her legacy celebrated in two films in the last few years, the 2018 documentary “RBG” and legal drama “On the Basis of Sex.” 

Rosen had met Ginsburg in an elevator in 1991, when he was a young law clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals. 

“I was incredibly intimidated because she was coming down from a workout routine and she was completely silent,” Rosen said.

Looking for something “to break the ice,” Rosen said he asked the then-Appeals Court judge what opera she had seen recently.

“That was just the right question to ask. She blossomed and got really enthusiastic,” Rosen recounted. “I didn’t even know she was an opera fan. That began this lifelong friendship, which is one of the greatest blessings and honors of my life.”

While Ginsburg had always been interested in improving society, Rosen said, he saw a “big change” in her dissenting opinions in 2013.

“She started to speak with great force and power because she thought the Supreme Court had changed, and it was her responsibility to speak for the voice of liberalism,” he said.

He called Ginsburg’s dissenting opinions “inspiring” and encouraged people to “read them today, to remind them of her liberal legacy.”

“Work on just using her words — work on something larger than yourself that can improve society and help the less fortunate,” he said. 

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