Justice Ginsburg gives opinion on law and opera

August 3, 2012

Cassidy Herrington

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave her juror's opinion in the cases of The Magic Flute and Faust Friday.

That's right, she's an opera aficionado. 

Her rare appearance was part of a panel discussion, "Arias of Law: The Rule of Law at Work in Opera and the Supreme Court," at the American Bar Association's annual meeting in Chicago.

Ginsburg was joined by U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. and Lyric Opera of Chicago's General Director Anthony Freud on the panel. They shared insight on the cross-pollination between disciplines – law and opera.

Craig C. Martin, a partner in the Chicago office of Jenner & Block LLP, moderated the discussion. He told WBEZ that the interconnection between the two areas shouldn't be too surprising.

"Operas present moral questions, and law answers the questions," Martin said.

Opera singers performed excerpts from the works of Mozart's The Magic Flute and Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd. After each performance, the panelists drew ties to themes in law, such as persuasion, performance and gender equality.

Ginsburg talked about gender discrimination after an aria from Cosi Fan Tutte, commonly translated, "Women Are All Like That." The lyrics say that women are incapable of fidelity.

"It might have been called, 'that's the way men are,'" she said.

Ginsburg argued a series of gender discrimination cases during the 1970s, when she was director of the Women's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“People understood that racial discrimination was odious," Ginsburg said. But the men before whom I was arguing, and in those days it was all men, it was a strange idea to them that there was discrimination against women.”

Ginsburg said she had to convince her male colleagues to consider the long-term effect of gender inequality.

“To get the court to realize, to get them to think how they would like the world to be for their daughters or granddaughters," she said. "That’s what I saw as my primary job.”

Ginsburg was the second woman to become justice when President Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court in 1993.