Richard Story had just finished a weeklong training program for new judges in 1999 and was preparing for the commencement dinner at the U.S. Supreme Court. He had the “good fortune” to find that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was seated at his table.
“That’s the one opportunity I had to really, in a relaxed setting, actually spend some time around her, in totally a non-law setting,” said Story, a U.S. District Court judge for the Northern District of Georgia, which covers most counties north of Atlanta. “It was purely social, which was wonderful.”
Ginsburg died Friday, Sept. 18, of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer at age 87. She became the high court’s second female justice in 1993 and served for 27 years.
There were no serious conversations that night, the Gainesville resident and former Hall County Superior Court judge recalled, adding that he remembered Ginsburg as a “friendly, warm person.”
“She was a Supreme Court justice and I’m a district judge, and she was very kind to all of us,” Story said. “There was no pretense or anything of that sort. It was just a very cordial evening that we spent.”
Story said the justice was admired by many.
“The women in my family, from my wife to my granddaughter, including (my) daughters, just hold her in such high esteem,” Story said.
Since then, Story has served on a committee for the U.S. Courts, which has caused him to go to the judicial conferences in Washington D.C. The receptions are also held at the Supreme Court, and Ginsburg attended some of those events.
When the history books are written about Ginsburg, Story said he feels there will be mention of “her commitment to equality for all, everyone having equal rights and equal opportunities” as well as her strides for women in law and society.
“I would hope that there would be some mention of just her strength when you think about the health issues that she has battled over the last few years while continuing to be an active member of the court,” Story said. “It’s incredible to me.”
In the 1970s, the Supreme Court had never applied the Constitution’s guarantee of “equal protection of the laws” to strike down a law because of gender discrimination. That changed in 1971 with a case in which Ginsburg helped persuade the high court to invalidate an Idaho law that called for choosing men over women to administer the estates of the dead.
Two years later, she again prevailed — making her first oral argument before the high court she would later join — in the case of a female Air Force officer whose husband was denied spousal benefits that male officers’ wives automatically received.
The late Supreme Court justice will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, where her husband was buried a decade ago. Her husband, Martin Ginsburg, died in 2010 after losing his own fight with cancer.
A private ceremony will be held for Ginsburg at the cemetery, which is also the final resting spot for many of her fellow Supreme Court judges, the top court said in a statement.
Jewish tradition normally calls for the deceased to be buried within 24 hours of death. But the Rosh Hashanah holiday started Friday night, which could delay a ceremony until Monday.
A statue of Ginsburg will be built in her native Brooklyn, New York. Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn in 1933 and grew up in the borough’s Flatbush neighborhood. She first gained fame as a litigator for the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Tribune News Service and the Associated Press contributed to this report.