The prim image of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a United States Supreme Court Justice since 1993, has been tattooed, painted on fingernails, and captioned on posters and T-shirts with the words, “You Can’t Spell Truth Without Ruth.”
On Halloween, trick-or-treaters of all ages mimic her trademark large glasses, lace collars, tightly pulled back hair, and mysterious scowl. The title of her recent biography, “The Notorious R.B.G.” references the rapper Notorious B.I.G. Now 85, she “crushed” Stephen Colbert as they worked out together for a "Late Show" segment. She is the subject of a workout book, not to mention a comic opera, a children’s book, and feature film to be released in the fall.
One of Ginsburg’s millions of admirers is Texas Fourth Court of Appeals Justice Rebeca Martinez in San Antonio, one of seven justices on that court. Wanting to ensure that young women in particular know about Ginsburg’s pioneering career and crusades for equal rights, she is hosting a screening of RBG, a new documentary by Betsy West and Julie Cohen that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in late January. About 30 percent of the tickets will go free to high school students.
The screening and a reception with RBG-inspired treats will take place Friday at Santikos’ Bijou Cinema Bistro, 4522 Fredericksburg Rd., at 6:30 p.m. RBG will open Thursday at the Bijou and run for at least one week, a Santikos spokesman said.
“As a young lawyer growing up in a profession where there weren’t that many women on the bench and especially not women of color,” Martinez said, “she and [former U.S. Supreme Court] Justice Sandra Day O’Connor served as inspiration for many young legal minds like myself.”
Martinez’s only brush with “RBG,” as Ginsburg has become popularly known, was at an appellate judicial conference in Washington, D.C, in 2015. The Supreme Court justice's crusade for women’s equality has made Martinez “a fan from afar, as many are,” she said.
“RBG has always been committed to bringing up other women and unrepresented people. We’re looking forward to screening this movie because it’s a reminder that we need a strong resolve in preparation for the challenges ahead," Martinez said. "Women need to expect adversity both personally and professionally still, in whatever profession they enter.”
Honoring the Justice’s frequent filing of dissents to conservative majority rulings, Martinez’s event will feature a cocktail called “The Dissent,” and a “Frankfurter Sandwich,” named after Ginsburg's comedic ruling on whether a hot dog is a sandwich. (Her "opinion" came during the same Colbert episode in which she took up his workout challenge.)
Guests of all ages are invited to wear big glasses, lacy collars, tightly clasped hair and other elements of the Ginsburg style to vie in a contest in homemade "RBG" costumes.
Now celebrated for making progressive legal inroads for women, Ginsburg has said she faced gender bias every step of the way. At Harvard Law School, the dean asked her and the other four women in a class of about 500 men, "How do you justify taking a spot from a qualified man?" As she continued facing barriers in her academic and legal career, she felt a responsibility, Martinez said, to fight for women’s personal and professional equality.
Michael Vatis, a Princeton University graduate and an attorney for Steptoe & Johnson in New York, clerked for Ginsburg on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit from 1988 to 1989.
“[Ginsburg] has always been very sober and serious-minded, and she is typically very reserved,” Vatis told the Rivard Report. “So I think that’s why her recent celebrity has been so surprising to people who have known her for a long time. She seems like the least likely celebrity in a world in which people become celebrities for acting outrageously. She’s about as opposite of that as you can be. And yet this ‘Notorious RBG’ meme has taken over popular culture.”
The timing of the phenomenon may give unexpected insight into American society at this particular time, Vatis said.
“Maybe there’s a real hunger out there for someone who is serious and focused on the issues, in her case legal issues, and not spouting off the first thing that comes to her head, which is what we’re used to in political figures and celebrities of all sorts," he said. "Maybe we are tired of that and looking for someone who can be a beacon of seriousness and purpose, which is what she is.”
Marcia Coyle, who has covered the Supreme Court for the The National Law Journal since Ginsburg was appointed Justice in 1993, says Ginsburg's groundbreaking past – and present – has inspired a new generation of young women .
"If Justice Ginsburg had only been the lawyer winning pathbreaking Supreme Court decisions achieving equality for women and men four decades ago, her place in American history would be secure," Coyle said. “But she continues to speak ‘truth to power’ in a calm, even voice, through her own Supreme Court decisions, reminding her male colleagues, for example, of how a middle school girl feels when ordered to strip to her underwear for a search, or urging Congress to correct a Supreme Court decision that fell short of requiring equal pay for equal work.
"It is that combination of her past and present voices," she added, "that has drawn a new generation of young girls and women to see in her as a model for their own hopes and accomplishments."
Even while Ginsburg worked steadfastly on the high court, Martinez said, food remained an important part of Ginsburg's life at home and at work, where she found that interesting meals could always bring common ground to Supreme Court justices. Her husband, the late Marty Ginsburg, took over as household cook when his wife’s days at work grew longer, and he grew more serious about exploring ethnic cuisines. After his death in 2010, spouses of the Justices of the Supreme Court published a cookbook of his recipes, photos, and fond tales.
Martinez, driven to host the RBG screening by her desire to inspire young people, also is taking the costume contest seriously.
“Several people have asked me if they could borrow my robe,” the state justice said, “but no, I’m going to be wearing it!”
Tickets are $10 each. To reserve a seat for the event, click here.