W101 | RBG: The Woman, The Litigator, The Justice


9:30 am-11:00 am


1/20, 1/27, 2/3, 2/10, 2/17 & 2/24

Six Sessions

This course is offered online via the easy-to-use Zoom program.

This course covers the whole of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s career, right up to her death this fall.  We will interweave her biography and her law cases, following her rise at Columbia Law School and the ACLU Women’s Law Project--and then her 40 years as a judge, 13 on the Court of Appeals and 27 on the Supreme Court.  Our ambition for the class is to take her measure as one of the greatest pioneers in American law.   

Over the six classes, we will focus on her most important briefs, opinions and dissents.  We’ll cover the recent documentary film on her and other short films, as well as excerpts and articles on her family of origin, her marriage to Marty Ginsburg, and her relationships, both to her many law clerks as well as the judges and justices with whom she served, most notably Antonin Scalia. Cameo appearances of those who met her, studied with her and worked with her will enrich our understanding of both her character and her influence on those whose lives she touched, directly and indirectly.  

Tom Gerety holds a JD and Ph.D. from Yale University. He served as Dean of the College of Law at the University of Cincinnati and is former president of both Trinity and Amherst Colleges.  He was executive director and Brennan Professor at the Brennan Center for Justice, NYU School of Law. He recently retired as Collegiate Professor of Law and Humanities, NYU. He is author of The Freshman Who Hated Socrates. 

Virginia (Fisher) O’Leary is Professor Emerita, Auburn University. She holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Wayne State University.  She is past president of the Society of the Psychology of Women, and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues of the American Psychological Association. Shis the author of Women, Gender and Social Psychology (with Barbara Strudler Wallston and Rhoda K. Unger), Toward Understanding Women, and Storming the Tower: Women in Academe Around the World (with Suzanne Lie). 

Recommended Readings for Session 2, January 27th:

1. Reed: https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/404/71/

2. Frontiero: https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/411/677

An Opening Message from Tom Gerety:

"I would ask everyone who will be taking this class to do at least some reading each week so as to deepen what we can learn from and about RBG.  The easiest book--and it's both short and full of pictures--is The Notorious RBG (Day, 2015) by Carmon and Knizhnik: a very easy and enjoyable read that packs in a lot of material and extensive quotes.  The quickest way to get hold of it is an eBook through the libraries or Amazon etc. For the more devoted, Jane Sherron DeHart's 700 page biography is terrific: detailed, careful and eloquent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life (Knopf, 2018).  Also available in all formats and in the libraries.  Prof. De Hart is our guest for the first class on the 20th--Inauguration Day!

One old Supreme Court Case, Bradwell v. State of Illinois (1873), sets the stage for RBG's career-long legal strategy.  It held that Myra Bradwell as a "married woman" had no right under the Constitution or laws of Illinois to be admitted to the practice of law.  It's short and to the point: 'The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life.'   


See also the more recent 1948 case Goesaert v. Cleary, denying a woman the right to tend bar, reaffirming Bradwell's reasoning: https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/335/464/#tab-opinion-1939495

Our syllabus will feature many guests and proceed biographically, concluding with reflections on feminism in the law now and in the years to come--.  The struggle will no doubt continue, and continue to be hard. See you soon.


Click here to sign up for our free email newsletter, and don't miss out on our great programs!

Click here to support lifelong learning in the Berkshires

OLLI: the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkshire Community College
Partners in education with Williams College, Bard College at Simon's Rock and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

1350 West Street | Pittsfield, MA 01201 | 413.236.2190 | olli@berkshirecc.edu

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software