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Supreme Court Nominee Lets Humor Show Through Austerity With PM-Ginsburg, Bjt

July 21, 1993 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Ruth Bader Ginsburg admits she laughs so rarely that her children once kept track of her mirth in a book called ″Mommy Laughed.″

True to her stolid reputation, many of Ginsburg’s answers during her Senate confirmation hearing were dry, technical and cautious. Her speech was filled with such long pauses that Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., sometimes found himself ending her sentences.

But there were flashes of wit and candor. And in those moments, Ginsburg owned the room.

Under questioning by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., Ginsburg recalled a lunch with law school colleagues in the 1970s. The colleagues, all men, were ridiculing the idea of a man suing an airline because it hired only women as flight attendants. After all, stewardesses were supposed to be sexy.

Their conversation was interrupted by a waitress who piped in to say she had seen ″the most adorable steward″ on an airplane.

″The men looked at me and they said, ’Ruth, do women look at men that way?‴ Ginsburg recalled. Her answer: ″Damn right we do.″

The hearing room erupted in laughter. All a red-faced Kennedy could say was, ″Well.″

He wasn’t the only senator briefly silenced by Ginsburg.

When Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, noted that Ginsburg had hired no black law clerks in 13 years as a judge, Ginsburg said she had tried to find black clerks and would try harder in the future.

Then she added: ″If you confirm me to this job, my attractiveness to black candidates is going to improve.″

Again there was laughter, and all the senator could say was, ″Well.″

Ginsburg, who sat on a red cushion to boost her height, used anecdotes to describe the discrimination she had faced. A sign she saw as a child, ″No Dogs or Jews Allowed,″ was hurtful. But some forms of bias against women were so ingrained in society that she barely noticed them at the time, she said.

Ginsburg seemed amused by an irony she discovered as a student.

Cornell University justified severely limiting enrollment of women by saying that female students required the protective environment of a dormitory, and it did not have enough dorm rooms for more of them, Ginsburg said.

When she reached Harvard Law School, she found that dorm rooms were reserved for men only. Women had to find shelter off-campus.

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″It just showed how irrational it all was,″ she said.

Every bit the proud grandmother, Ginsburg showed off her two young grandchildren, who sat in the front row during the hearing, fidgeting and licking lollipops.

Ginsburg held up her favorite book: ″My Grandma is Very, Very Special,″ by her 6-year-old, Paul.

″In preparation for these hearings I have read briefing books, opinion books, law reviews, but there is no book in the world that means as much to me,″ Ginsburg said.

She flipped through the pages of the crayon-and-colored paper volume, so all the senators could see. ″It’s a wonderful book. ... It ends with a map of the USA.″

The woman who rarely laughs had the whole room laughing.