CORRECTION: This story originally misreported where Ruth Bader Ginsburg earned her law degree.
When Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg attended law school in the 1950s, women in law were rare.
She graduated from Columbia Law School and was one of nine women in a class of 500. None of her professors was female, 3 percent of lawyers nationally were women and there was only a men's bathroom in one of her two classroom buildings.
"What was law school like in the not-so-good-old days? We thought all eyes were on us, so we better be prepared because if we weren't, we would affect not only ourselves, but all women," Ginsburg said during a discussion Wednesday evening at the University of Colorado.
Equality was a theme of Ginsburg's talk as she addressed an audience of about 1,100 at CU, discussing women's rights to serve on juries; the irony of fighting a war against racism during World War II but having racially segregated troops; and predicting that gay marriage will come before the Supreme Court this term.
College students and audience members submitted questions for Ginsburg, which were then posed by law school dean Phil Weiser on the stage of the Glenn Miller Ballroom.
She declined to answer a question on the constitutionality of gay marriage because of the likelihood, she said, that the legality of the Defense of Marriage Act will come before the Supreme Court before the end of this year's term.
Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 to prevent same-sex marriages in one state from being legally recognized by all states. The law limits marriage to one man and one woman. The legal battle is set to move to federal appeals court in Manhattan, with oral arguments beginning later this month.
Ginsburg was appointed to the nation's highest court by President Bill Clinton and took oath in 1993. She became the second female justice, after Sandra Day O'Connor. When the two served on the court together, they had T-shirts that made light of people mixing them up -- even though they looked nothing alike. O'Connor's shirt said: "I'm Sandra, not Ruth."
O'Connor will be giving an address at CU next fall, which will also be sponsored by the Byron R. White Center for the Study of American Constitutional Law.
When Ginsburg graduated from law school in 1959, she was looking for a job and said she had "three strikes" already working against her: She was a mother, Jewish and a woman. In 1960, she was turned down for a clerk position because she was a woman. She took a clerkship for a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
On Wednesday, she discussed monumental cases that she has worked on, including authoring the brief in Reed v. Reed that convinced the Supreme Court in 1971 that the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution applies to women. The case challenged an Idaho law that favored a man over a woman to be administrator of a deceased person's estate.
She said that while the 14th Amendment was written to specifically address racial segregation, it has evolved to protect women's rights. The equality clause, she said, has growth potential to keep up with society as it changes from generation to generation.
Asked what is the greatest threat to the legal system, Ginsburg said it is always a difficult challenge to maintain liberty and freedom in a time of terror and security concerns. She cited Japanese internment camps during World War II, saying our nation won't make such a mistake again.
"Our individual rights must be preserved," she said. "Otherwise, they are no different than the vices we are fighting against."
Melissa Hart, director of the Byron R. White Center, which sponsored the talk, said that over the past couple of years the center has tried to move conversations about the Constitution outside of the academy and more into the public.
This week, in honor of Constitution Day, law students, faculty members and attorneys have been delivering constitutional lessons in Colorado high schools.
The Ginsburg discussion was streamed to an overflow crowd in the Wolf Law Building on the Boulder campus as well as to crowds gathered at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction and Fort Lewis College in Durango.
Near the beginning of the discussion, Ginsburg conceded that she can't cook and that the last time she tried was in 1980.
Martin Ginsburg, who died of cancer in June 2010, was a taxation law expert who did all of the cooking. Some of his recipes are compiled in "Chef Supreme," a cookbook created by the Associate Spouses of the Supreme Court in his memory.
"I was blessed for 56 years to be married to a man who thought my work was as important as his," Ginsburg told the CU crowd. "And he was a great chef."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or email@example.com.