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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: ‘Over the long haul, I have had it all’

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks with Judge Ann Claire Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit at Roosevelt University's 2017 American Dream Reconsidered conference, on Monday evening, Sept. 11, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Turning setbacks into opportunity has been an overriding theme of her illustrious career, and she has no intention of quitting the bench anytime soon, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told a 4,300-seat capacity crowd at Roosevelt University on Monday night.

“There is still work to be done,” said Ginsburg, the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court, and one of three who currently remain, after the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was the first.

“There will be enough women on the Supreme Court when there are nine,” said the outspoken judge, who noticeably veered away from addressing any politics of the day.

The closest she came was to criticize the partisanship that has marred the most recent Supreme Court nominee hearings. “I can only hope that in my lifetime they will stop that nonsense. Partisanship in selections of justices is a dangerous thing,” she said.

Over the course of a two-hour conversation on stage with U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Ann Claire Williams on stage at the Auditorium Theatre, Ginsburg shared her life story of breaking barriers in the legal profession to reach the nation’s highest court, covering her childhood through her most famous cases.

“I think it would have been beyond her wildest dreams to see what became of me,” said the 84-year-old Associate Justice, who was appointed to the court by President Bill Clinton in 1993. “Over the long haul, I have had it all.”

She visited the university as part of Roosevelt’s Second Annual American Dream Reconsidered Conference, where experts throughout this week will discourse on the meaning of the American Dream.

A line snaked four blocks for the Ginsburg event, even as the 7 p.m. program was to begin.

Williams, the first African-American judge appointed to the Northern District of Illinois and first to sit on the 7th Circuit Appeals Court, was specifically requested by the liberal feminist justice, who has reached cultural icon status and last year authored her book “My Own Words.”

One of the greatest pieces of advice she received early in life was from her father-in-law, when she was a teacher trying to decide if she could follow her dream of becoming a lawyer, as the mother of a small child.

“It is advice that has stood me in good stead my entire life: I have to ask myself do I really want it, and if I do, I will find a way,” she said.

Before she took the stage, university officials observed a moment of silence for the 9/11 anniversary.

Looking back on the early travails both she and O’Connor faced entering law at a time when women were unwelcome, she encourages more women today to enter the profession and help the less fortunate, Ginsburg said.

“I think there has not been a better time to be a woman in the legal profession, because no doors are closed. I won’t say there’s no discrimination. That would be a stretch,” she said.

Ultimately, said Ginsburg, “I would like to be remembered as someone who did her best to move things in a better direction.”

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