Ginsburg visits Virginia school she helped open to women

February 1, 2017 GMT

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told cadets at the Virginia Military Institute on Wednesday that she knew a 1996 opinion she wrote opening the school to women “would make VMI a better place.”

Ginsburg’s visit was her first to the state-supported school since the decision more than 20 years ago. Since the decision, 394 women have graduated from VMI. About 11 percent of VMI’s 1,700 students, called the Corps of Cadets, are women.


Asked Wednesday about a prediction that the decision would destroy the Lexington, Virginia, school Ginsburg drew applause when she answered that she knew it wouldn’t, and that she knew it “would make VMI a better place.” Ginsburg called her opinion the “soul of simplicity,” saying “there are women who are ready, willing and able to undergo the tough training at VMI and they want that opportunity. The state of Virginia can’t deny it to them.”

Ginsburg spoke for about 30 minutes, answering questions from two Georgetown University law professors, Mary Hartnett and Wendy Williams, who are writing her authorized biography. She did not comment on President Donald Trump’s Tuesday nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the seat left open by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last February.

Ginsburg did discuss Scalia, however, the only justice to dissent in the VMI case. Ginsburg said that the “very long” opinion ultimately released by the court was the 17th or 18th draft because she and Scalia had been “going back and forth like a ping pong game,” with each justice responding to the other’s latest draft.

The court ultimately ruled 7-1 in the case. Justice Clarence Thomas did not take part because his son was attending VMI at the time.

For Wednesday’s visit, Ginsburg wore a pin sent to her by a VMI graduate. The pin, which was his mother’s, had been given to mothers of the cadets in the year he graduated. After she died, he wanted Ginsburg to have it.

“In an abstract way you will be mother of VMI’s first and succeeding women graduates,” the person wrote in a letter that was read during Ginsburg’s visit. The letter writer added: “Feel free to wear it proudly any time but especially if you are ever invited to VMI.”


In answer to one question, Ginsburg discussed her dedication to physical fitness, something she shares with the cadets. She told them she has a trainer who has been with her since 1999 and who also trains Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer. Her hour-long evening workout includes push-ups, weights and the plank, she said.

Hartnett, her biographer, noted that Justice Ginsburg doesn’t do modified push-ups using her knees.

“She does not do the so-called girl push-ups,” Hartnett said.


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