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Remembering RBG, the Friend

Remembering RBG, the Friend

To most people Ruth Bader Ginsburg was larger-than-life “notorious RBG,” the trailblazing legal scholar and iconic influence on the Supreme Court.

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

But to a relatively small group of people, including National Public Radio’s (NPR) Nina Totenberg, Ginsburg was a close, treasured friend.

In a moving remembrance published on NPR’s website Saturday, the long-time Supreme Court reporter recalled how she first came to know Ginsburg and shared many of her fondest memories of her friend of more than 50 years. Rather than recounting Ginsburg’s “brilliance, hard work or devotion to the law, or even her pioneering role as the architect of the legal fight for women’s rights in this country,” Totenberg focused on “examples of her extraordinary character, decency and commitment to friends, colleagues, law clerks — just about everyone whose lives she touched.”

The two first met over the phone in 1971 when Totenberg called Ginsburg, at the time a law professor at Rutgers University, while reporting on the landmark Reed v. Reed 14th amendment case.

“I soon began calling professor Ginsburg regularly,” Totenberg writes, “and eventually I met her in person at a conference in New York. We never did agree what the subject of that conference was, but take my word for it, it was boring. So boring that we … well, we went shopping.

“We would become professional friends and later, close friends after she moved to Washington to serve on the federal appeals court here and later, on the U.S. Supreme Court.”

In her piece, Totenberg discussed the concept of covering a friend.

“I sometimes was asked how I could remain such good friends with RBG at the same time that I covered her as a reporter.

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“The answer was really pretty simple. If you are lucky enough to be friends with someone like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, you both understand that you each have a job and that it has to be done professionally, and without favor.”

To illustrate that point, Totenberg writes how, this past July, Ginsburg asked during a phone conversation, “‘How did you like that Electoral College decision?’ I couldn’t believe my ears. My friend was human. She had, like the rest of us in these COVID-19 times, gotten her days mixed up. She thought it was Monday. I paused and said, gently, ‘Ruth, it’s Sunday, not Monday.’

“She gasped. She was horrified. Beside herself at her indiscretion. Of course, she hadn’t told me anything about what the court had decided, only that I would find out in about 12 hours. But still, she was lashing herself for her mistake. I couldn’t help but laugh.”

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