Gobsmacked

In response to my post this weekend regarding Justice Ginsburg, Demosthenes commented that “Justice Ginsburg is a cool character, there’s no doubt about that. People underestimate her at their own peril.”  Those words resonated with me. Indeed, you know the feeling of astonishment when something reveals itself and you think, “How obvious!”

I am sorry if this seems weird, but you have probably become accustomed to the weird if you read this blog.  But here’s the deal: Ginsburg looks and acts like my grandmother, Almeda. In many ways, my grandmother, who I adored, was much like Ginsburg. Extraordinarily smart and tough, but tiny and frail too.

I remember my grandmother explaining why her little left arm was withered and why she had only a claw for a left hand. After falling and breaking her arm, and suffering an open fracture, she was taken to the hospital in an ambulance drawn by horses. When the doctor set the fracture, he made a mistake. Among other things, her wrist was fixed inward and the five fingers on her left hand were entirely immobile and permanently flexed. For the many decades that followed, Almeda would negotiate life like a small bird with a busted wing.

Several years after she turned 90, my uncle called and asked me to come out to California to see Almeda. He wanted me to talk her into going into a retirement place because, although she was cognitively as bright as ever, her gait was becoming unsteady and with only one arm he feared what would happen if she fell. As the oldest grandson (I was 40 then), George, my uncle, thought Almeda might listen to me.

After I arrived, Almeda, who by then was 93 or something of that vintage, made us drinks.  She had a gin martini. She smoked her one cigarette for the day as we talked and drank on her patio. She said she knew why I had come, but she wasn’t moving. And that was that. So we spent the weekend talking about books and politics. On Sunday morning, before I was to leave, we shared the Sunday LA Times over English muffins, real butter and coffee.

And that’s why the talk of Ginsburg at 80 being too old really pisses me off. I shoulda known. Thanks for prompting the insight Demo!*

RGK

*Demosthenes is a helluva good writer.  With other excellent writers, he also blogs about the practice of law in South Florida at Attorneys at Blah a not so judicious journal of law and life in South Florida.

10 responses

  1. Marc,

    I am not close enough to the Academy to know whether the political science professor was correct 15 years ago or whether his or her view is correct today. That is, I don’t know whether it is true as an empirical matter that the law schools drain the talent pool for science, engineering and the humanities. (I do know that in 1969 I turned down a scholarship offer to pursue a Phd in political science at Big 10 graduate school in order to attend law school on a scholarship at Nebraska.)

    My son is a relatively newly minted Phd and an academic biologist in Australia. He is now a research fellow at a University. I know that tenure track faculty positions in the US and every place else are scarce as hens teeth and young academics have extraordinary trouble supporting themselves for the 10 plus years it takes after their doctorates to find a secure job. I doubt, however, that law schools are the cause of that problem.

    As a matter of fact, I hear that law school admissions are down big time. As the world’s economy changes in ways we don’t yet fully understand, one can make a pretty good argument that we don’t and won’t need the same number of lawyers that our old economy required. (Globalization equals economy of scale equals fewer lawyers.) In other words, it may be that law schools are catering to a business model that may not exist in 20 or 30 years. Perhaps prospective law students are sensing this change, and going elsewhere.

    As for your broader question–what happened to the legal profession?–, I haven’t thought that through. I will think on it.

    All the best.

    RGK

  2. Marc,

    I feel like I am answering interrogatories! No, I don’t really mean that.

    In short, watch what the big corporations are doing. As they get bigger, and in order survive on a global scale, there is a huge push for greater productivity per unit of time. That push is bound to hit lawyers who have nothing to sell but time. That in turn is likely to result in fewer lawyers, lower incomes for lawyers who remain, and, ultimately, lower legal costs. For example, alternate dispute resolution mechanisms (mediation) have caused the number of jury trials to plummet. Disputes are resolved faster, quicker and cheaper.

    All the best.

    RGK

  3. Pingback: The Judge Giveth | Attorneys at Blah

  4. Rich, that’s a sweet story about your grandmother. My favorite Justice Ginsburg opinion is Marshall v. Marshall, 547 US 293 (2006). Pretty much only Federal Jurisdiction dorks care about it. It holds that a tortious interference with the expectancy of inheritance claim does not fall within the (judicially created) “probate” exception to federal jurisdiction. It is undoubtedly correct. There is a marginally comprehensible concurrence by Stevens. Nobody dissents. The only thing that made the case interesting was that one of the Marshalls was Anna Nicole Smith. The picture is completely safe for work, federal judges and children. Aside from the case being right, the thing I like most about it is that Justice Ginsburg demurely refers to Anna NIcole Smith as “Vickie” — as that was her given first name. I wondered whether God ever created two more different women than “Ruth” and “Vickie.”

    Vickie is a tragic figure. For all of her beauty, she fell prey to powerful men whose concept of ethical lines can be described as blurry, at best. She died of a drug overdose, leaving an infant whose paternity was disputed. Posthumously, she would lose on the second go-’round in the Supreme Court, leaving her estate essentially empty.

    But Justice Ginsburg treated her with dignity, when many others would not.

  5. Pat,

    One of the easiest ways to tell whether a judge has a soul is when the judge has a tempting opportunity to make fun of a flawed party or a dumb lawyer and foregoes that opportunity because it is just too easy. Thanks for the reminder!

    All the best.

    RGK

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