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Justice Kagan and the Notorious RBG

Nearly 450 people defied the latest snowstorm to pack the New York City Bar Association’s meeting hall last night for a rare opportunity to see two Supreme Court justices speak and interact with each another. The occasion was the annual Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Distinguished Lecture on Women and the Law, which was delivered by Justice Elena Kagan.

Justice Elena KaganJustice Kagan’s lecture was titled “Justice Ginsburg’s Greatest Hits,” and focused on six cases Justice Ginsburg worked on, three as a litigator and three as a judge. Among them were United States v. Virginia, in which Justice Ginsburg ruled against the Virginia Military Institute’s male-only admissions policy, and Ledbetter v. Goodyear, in which Justice Ginsburg’s dissent contributed to the enactment of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Justice Kagan also covered the 1976 case of Craig v. Boren, which centered on Oklahoma’s law that allowed women to buy beer at age 18, while men had to be 21 to purchase the same. “Craig wanted beer, and sued to get it,” said Justice Kagan.

“As a litigator, and then as a judge, she changed the face of American anti-discrimation law,” Justice Kagan said of Justice Ginsburg. “More than any other person, she can take credit for making the laws of this country work. And in doing so, she made possible my own career, and later on the careers of today’s devotees of the Notorious RBG Tumblr and the Ruth Bader GinsBlog.”

Those were references to the lighter side of the evening, in which Justice Kagan described Justice Ginsburg’s remarkable influence on the wider culture: the “Notorious RBG rap video” (of which Justice Ginsburg is reportedly a great fan), the opera and the comic book she inspired, the Buzzfeed ‘listicle’ on “19 Reasons Ruth Bader Ginsburg is Your Favorite Supreme Court Justice,” and the Ruth Bader Ginsburg bobblehead that Justice Kagan displayed on the dais.

Not surprisingly, the largest demographic in the audience for the talk was young women, of whom Justice Kagan said, “I’m just delighted to see many, many here.” One young woman asked Justice Ginsburg for any career advice she could give her. Justice Ginsburg replied, “I have enjoyed everything I have done in the law. What made me so satisfied in my career is what Justice Kagan spoke about—that I spent a lot of my time doing something outside myself, doing something that I hope makes life better for people who are not as fortunate. So you will have a skill that you can use to make a living, but also to help make things a little better for other people.”

From left: City Bar Executive Director Bret I. Parker; Justice Elena Kagan; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; City Bar President Carey R. Dunne

For those who couldn’t make it, here is the entire evening on video:

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