Harvard Law students, former clerk remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Students at Harvard Law School continue to mourn the loss of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ginsburg died Friday at 87 years old after a battle with metastatic pancreas cancer.

In 1956, Ginsburg was one of a handful of women to enroll at Harvard Law School among hundreds of men.

“She definitely provided an example that I followed in her footsteps from early on, even just wanting to go to law school,” said second-year Harvard Law School student Maura Smyles. “My year was, I believe, the second year in HLS history to have more women than men in our class, so in that sense for sure, [Ginsburg was a] trailblazer.”

Related: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dead at 87

Saturday, students created a memorial for Ginsburg outside the law school library in Langdell Hall.

“I just wanted to create a place for people to mourn her and to share the impact she has had on our lives,” said first-year Harvard Law School student Catherine Walker-Jacks, who created the memorial. “I think a lot of us are feeling a lot of things, everybody, but in particular law students. Many of us are very personally inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s story.”

Walker-Jacks left post-it notes outside the library for community members to write messages of thanks and respect to Ginsburg. Candles, flowers and a small gavel were placed next to a large portrait Walker-Jacks printed out.

Boston University professor Jay Wexler spoke to Boston 25 News about his time serving as a law clerk for Ginsburg during the 1998-1999 Supreme Court term. “It was a fantastic year, a phenomenal year, working for such a brilliant jurist and a really lovely person,” Wexler said. “I learned so much from her that I still use to this day, 20-plus years later.”

Wexler said while Ginsburg was soft-spoken and small in stature, her impact and accomplishments were monumental. “She was very much like what I think people have seen of her in her public appearances,” Wexler said. “She’s quiet, obviously, but when she speaks, everybody listens because she’s only saying things that are very important.”

Wexler recalled one memory of his time with Ginsburg. She had taken him and the three other clerks out to a performance when she was called on-stage during the intermission.

“She was on the stage with a little girl who was in the performance, who was maybe seven years old. They danced around, they twirled around, it was just amazing because in an hour she’s going to go back and argue with Justice Scalia about how to interpret some important constitutional provision, but at that moment she was there for the audience, she was there for this girl, she was there making everybody smile,” Wexler said. “And that must not have been an easy thing for her to do, get up and do that, right? I’ve never forgotten that, and I’m sure that 7-year-old girl has also never forgotten it.”

Wexler said Ginsburg was a night owl who would show up to the office in the afternoon and would work well into the early-morning hours. “She was very, very sweet to us, she taught us a lot. There was a lot of comradery,” Wexler said. “We worked very hard and we worked a lot. She expected us to do top-notch work.”

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As many continue to mourn Ginsburg’s death, a political battle is brewing over the process to fill her seat on the Supreme Court. “You’re going to see a terrific, a terrifically pitched battle over the next couple of weeks over this appointment,” said Boston-based attorney Jeff Robbins.

Robbins told Boston 25 News he thinks the likelihood is high that President Donald Trump will nominate a new justice, and that the Republican-controlled Senate will confirm that person before the election on November 3. “I clearly think the right thing to do is to wait until the election is over,” Robbins said. “We are about six weeks from an election, the country is just suffused with partisanship and bitterness, and ramming a Supreme Court justice who may sit on that court for three decades through has an odor to it.”

Robbins pointed out that if this does indeed happen, the Supreme Court would be decidedly right-leaning, with a clear majority of six conservative-appointed justices to just three liberal ones.