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Justice Ginsburg Remembered By Her Former Clerk


We've been talking about the legacy of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg - the cases she tried, the numerous barriers she broke and her role in landmark decisions. Justice Ginsburg left an indelible mark in this country's legal history, especially for women and minorities. We're joined now by Professor Liz Magill. She's the executive vice president and provost of the University of Virginia, and she clerked for Justice Ginsburg.

Welcome to the program.

LIZ MAGILL: Thank you so much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The news of Justice Ginsburg's passing on Friday night must have been tough for you to hear. First of all, my condolences. What was your reaction?

MAGILL: Surprise, in a way. I knew she was ill - but mostly feeling lucky that I had the chance to work with her and to know her personally as her clerk. But I don't think we'll soon see someone her equal, so also very sad.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You clerked for her early on in her term at the Supreme Court. What was it like for you?

MAGILL: Well, for someone who likes law, clerking for her was like being a kid in a candy store - a very demanding candy store that took a lot of work. She, from my perspective, was still very much a teacher, and she made a point to teach her clerks how she thought about judging, how she thought about writing. And she made a point to share with us how the justices came to their views on the cases, which was a very special experience.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Any specific memory that sticks out? Any words of advice she may have given you?

MAGILL: Probably the most vivid are about her attention to every detail of a draft opinion, including - and I guess adding in her night-owl tendencies. I recall very vividly being on the phone with her in the middle of the night, line-editing opinions. The set of views that she had that I think I took to heart was that you should always try to understand the position of the person who disagrees with you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You yourself have broken a gender barrier. You're the first female provost of the University of Virginia. Did having someone like Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a mentor prepare you for the challenges of being a woman in the field?

MAGILL: Oh, I think it did. She modeled an approach to professional life, personal life, family life that I think all of us, male and female, who clerked for her absorbed. I think one thing that stands out to me about that model was she was very much herself. She was idiosyncratic in what I found to be charming ways. But she wasn't turning herself into someone she was not in order to advance her professional interests. She didn't segregate parts of her life in a way that I think many young professionals are taught to do to succeed. And so that was a very important model.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What was your last interaction with her?

MAGILL: She was at Stanford University for something called the Rathbun lecture, and I tried to get her to talk about some of the less famous cases that she either litigated - although all of those were quite famous - and less well-known cases that she authored. One of the amazing things about her is that she remembered the clients in every case she litigated.

And she - this was the - also the steel-trap mind of Justice Ginsburg. She looked right at me, and she said, well, Liz, you remember the opinion that you and your co-clerks worked on with me in that critical paragraph. And to me, this really captured her - the love of law, the steel-trap mind about law and also remembering something that I and my co-clerks worked on with her. I think this was in 2017 or 2018, so it was quite a long time from the time I clerked.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Again, my condolences. That's Professor Liz Magill, executive vice president and provost of the University of Virginia, talking about her relationship with Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Thank you very much.

MAGILL: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.