Remembering Justice Ginsburg

The Bencher—March/April 2021

By Randy J. Holland

I was asked to recount some of my interactions with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the late associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and it has rekindled wonderful memories.

As a member of the American Inns of Court Board of Trustees from 1992 to 2004, including as president in 2000–2004, I had the pleasure of getting to know Ginsburg at our annual Celebration of Excellence dinners at the Supreme Court. Ginsburg was an amazing supporter of our organization and often hosted these dinners.

Our first meetings were in the late 1990s, and our correspondence began with her letter of congratulations to me on August 7, 2000, when I became the president of the American Inns of Court. For the next 20 years, we exchanged letters and handwritten notes and met once or twice a year.

We met several times at the Second Circuit Judicial Conference. She was the Second Circuit justice, and I was presenting the American Inns of Court Professionalism Award. After one of those occasions, I sent Ginsburg a copy of The Bencher with a photograph of her, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, the award recipient, and me. She thanked me in a letter and requested a copy of the photograph “for my souvenirs.”

In the letter, she also mentioned that she had just been named an Honorary Bencher of Lincoln’s Inn in London, England. The next year, when (to my surprise) I also became an Honorary Bencher she wrote to me: “So glad to know that you and I are Lincoln’s Inn colleagues.” Although several Americans are Honorary Benchers at the Middle Temple and the other two Inns in London, Ginsburg, Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, and I were the only three Americans who were Honorary Benchers at Lincoln’s Inn. Ginsburg arranged for the three of us to be photographed at the Supreme Court. That photo is in my office.

Over the years, I periodically went to the Supreme Court to move the admission of groups of attorneys from the Delaware Law School. Ginsburg always accepted my invitation to attend a reception after each admission ceremony and to speak to our group. My law clerk, who was expecting a baby, was with me at one of those receptions. Ginsburg spoke to her about her own experience as an expectant mother in the legal profession.

A few times when I went to Washington, DC, with my law clerks, I asked Ginsburg if we could stop by for a visit. She always found time to host us in her chambers. Many of her clerks were selected for the American Inns of Court Temple Bar Scholarship program in London, and we talked about that program on several occasions.

One of our other mutual interests was teaching law school in Venice, Italy. We taught for different law schools and exchanged suggestions on things to do. Not surprisingly, the opera in Venice topped her list. We once talked about the Scalia/Ginsburg opera, which was based on texts from their judicial opinions. She told me that she attended the opening performance and especially liked a scene where she rescued Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. A few years later, I invited her to see the opera in Wilmington. She wrote, “To my disappointment, I must miss the Delaware Opera’s Scalia/Ginsburg production.”

She enjoyed music, and in 2013, she sent me the program from a recital organized by her son as a tribute for her 80th birthday and 20 years on the Supreme Court.

I knew that Ginsburg had her portrait painted by the renowned artist Simmie Knox. I wrote to her that he was also going to paint my portrait. I told her that he was a longtime family friend who had previously painted my portrait when I was a teenager and he was a college student with no training. She was happy to hear that story and wrote that she appreciated his talent in portraying her, after a recent illness, “as I hoped I would be after my health and strength were restored.”

Ginsburg was an active supporter of the American Inns of Court. We often met at annual events. With characteristic good humor, she once wrote she was happy that we were “Inn-mates.” She sent me congratulations when the Delaware Workers’ Compensation Inn was named for me. Later, when a group of Holland Inn members were admitted to the Supreme Court Bar, she joined us at the reception. On another occasion, she met with the executive committee of the Holland Inn in her chambers. In a later visit to her chambers with some of my law clerks, I gave her a copy of the “Holland Inn Cookbook.” She reciprocated by giving me a copy of the cookbook prepared by the Supreme Court spouses in memory of her beloved husband, Marty, who was an accomplished chef.

We talked about the documentary “RBG” and the movie based on her life, “On the Basis of Sex.” She said she liked them both and explained that her nephew wrote the “On the Basis of Sex” script. She said he had selected the case featured in the movie, rather than one of her Supreme Court cases, because she and Marty had been co-counsel. That made her happy.

Ginsburg enjoyed watching women succeed in the legal profession. At my request, she sent a letter for me to read when Justice Karen L. Valihura was sworn in as the second woman on the Delaware Supreme Court. I later arranged for them to be photographed together.

In 2018, I asked the leaders of the Delaware State Bar Association Women and the Law Section for permission to organize a 95th anniversary dinner and invite Ginsburg to speak. They readily agreed. Ginsburg replied, “If a summer dinner would work for the group, please tell me and I will suggest some dates.” On August 23, 2018, more than 300 Delaware women judges and attorneys had dinner with Ginsburg in Washington. A highlight of the evening was an interview of Ginsburg by Judge Jan R. Jurden, president judge of the Delaware Superior Court, and Tamika Montgomery-Reeves, who was vice chancellor of the Delaware Court of Chancery at the time and is now an associate justice on the Delaware Supreme Court. I wrote to Ginsburg the following year, when Montgomery-Reeves was appointed to the Delaware Supreme Court, and she thanked me “for the good news from Delaware.”

These are a few of my many fond memories. There is not enough space to write about our other correspondence and conversations on such topics as being the “Notorious RBG” or her exercise routine—although I will add that she smiled when I said I probably could not match her in doing pushups.

The last time I saw Ginsburg was with my wife in Ginsburg’s chambers in October 2019. I had arranged for her to meet Jill Black, Lady Black of Derwent, the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court of England, and her husband, Lord Justice Sir Richard McCombe, treasurer of Lincoln’s Inn. It was a special occasion to be together as the two American Benchers of Lincoln’s Inn, the Inn’s treasurer, and two women serving on their respective nations’ Supreme Courts.

John Donne was the pastor of the chapel at Lincoln’s Inn when he wrote “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” It is customary to ring the 400-year-old chapel bell when a Bencher dies. In his letter of condolence to Ginsburg’s children, the current treasurer said the Lincoln’s Inn chapel bell had been tolled for Ginsburg.

When I retired, Ginsburg sent a gracious letter and thanked me “for caring about the society law exists to serve.” We all thank her. She is the gold standard for caring about society. It is comforting to know that the sound of her legacy will never stop tolling and will ring forever in all of the lives she has touched, inspired, and given an opportunity to enjoy equal justice.

This article originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of The Journal of the Delaware State Bar Association, a publication of the Delaware State Bar Association. Copyright © Delaware State Bar Association 2020. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Randy J. Holland is senior of counsel in the Wilmington, Delaware, office of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. He was previously a justice on the Delaware Supreme Court for more than 30 years. He is a member and past president of the Terry Carey American Inn of Court and the namesake of the Randy J. Holland Delaware Workers’ Compensation American Inn of Court, both in Delaware. He served on the American Inns of Court Board of Trustees from 1992 to 2004 and as president from 2000 to 2004. He is also the 2007 recipient of the American Inns of Court A. Sherman Christensen Award and the 2014 recipient of the American Inns of Court Lewis F. Powell Jr. Award for Professional Service.