BOOK REVIEW: My Own Words, by Ruth Bader Ginsburg

GOOD Morning Wilton‘s book reviewer, Gayathri Kaimal, is a sophomore at Wilton High School and an avid reader who hopes to share her love of reading through her reviews. You can learn more about Gayathri on GMW‘s “Our Team” page. 

My Own Words is a brilliant way to pay tribute to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There is no better way to fully understand the life and legacy of such a powerful force in the fight for equality than through an assortment of her speeches and writings, placed in context by short introductions. Curated by Wendy Williams, founder of the San Francisco-based Equal Rights Advocates, and Mary Hartnett, an adjunct professor at the Law Center and director of the center’s Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellowship Program, this almost-autobiography contains everything from elementary school essays to her famed dissents. My Own Words is divided into five parts: RBG’s early years, an acknowledgment of those who paved the way for her, her fight for gender equality, her transition from a judge to a justice, and finally how she views the job of a Supreme Court Justice.

My Own Words begins by describing the people around RBG that inspired her to become such a fierce advocate for fairness. She credits her family and her professors for her achievements, writing that her mother “made reading a delight and counseled me constantly to ‘be independent,’ able to fend for myself,” and thanking her professors for illustrating both “our nation’s enduring values” and the difference word choice could make “in conveying an image or idea.” She attributes her success to her husband Marty, saying “that, without [Martin], I would not have gained a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.” She also thanks those who paved the way for her, sharing stories about early women lawyers and judges, Supreme Court wives, and Jewish Supreme Court Justices. Though she is a trailblazer, she continues to express gratitude to those who came before her.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s insight is revealed in her early writings, which display a passion for justice and a dedication to fighting hatred. In an eighth-grade editorial, she writes, “There can be a happy world and there will be once again, when men create a strong bond towards one another, a bond unbreakable by a studied prejudice or a passing circumstance.” At 20 years old, she wrote “We may be anxious to reduce crime, but we should remember that in our system of justice, the presumption of innocence is prime, and the law cannot apply one rule to Joe who is a good man, and another to John, who is a hardened criminal.” Her eloquence and intelligence are what makes My Own Words such a fascinating read–even legal opinions that could have been dry and tedious are riveting.

Her perseverance and discipline are well known, but she also writes that “Collegiality is key to the success of our mission.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg both emphasized and practiced collegiality, and her close friendship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia was a perfect example of the value she placed on respect, regardless of political opinion. Justice Ginsburg’s idealism provides much-needed relief from the current political environment. She writes, “We aim to ensure that when we leave the Court, the third branch of government will be in as good shape as it was when we joined it.” She was someone who valued the integrity of the courts, who never once wavered in her fight for justice and equality.

My Own Words does not tell the story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg but rather lets her work tell the story. Instead of being limited by a biographer’s perspective and interpretation, we are transported into the audience, hearing her voice firsthand. This unique format allows us to explore the unfiltered words of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and those around her. Through this selection of writings and speeches, the pieces of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s story fall into place, making it clear why she continues to be an inspiration today.

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