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Copyright (c) 1998 University of Hawai'i Law Review
University of Hawai'i Law Review

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Marshall Harlan: A Justice and Her Hero

Winter, 1998

20 Hawaii L. Rev. 797


I. Introduction

"Society is founded on Hero-worship." 1

In her confirmation hearings, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ("Ginsburg") spoke of former Associate Justice John Marshall Harlan ("Harlan"), who served on the Supreme Court from 1955 to 1971: 2 "He is one of my heroes as a great Justice . . . ." 3 It is significant for Ginsburg to label a person as her "hero," 4 particularly because of her reputation as a jurist who chooses her words with precision. 5 This comment will compare Ginsburg's philosophy on the role of the Court and her style of adjudicating to those of her self-pronounced hero, Harlan.

On the surface, Harlan is not an obvious choice as one of Ginsburg's "heroes." A leading dissenter during a time of great civil liberties activism in the Supreme Court, 6 Harlan was largely deemed a conservative. 7 Ginsburg, on the other hand, was considered an activist as an advocate. 8 Women's rights groups heralded Ginsburg's 1993 appointment to the Supreme Court as a victory, and feminists placed great hope for the future of women's equality on her presence on the Court. 9 President Clinton, announcing Ginsburg's nomination to the Supreme Court, called her "the Thurgood Marshall of gender equality law," 10 a comparison made by some commentators because of similarities between her work to advance the constitutional rights of women and Thurgood Marshall's work to advance the rights of African-Americans in landmark cases before the Supreme Court. Ginsburg's judicial ...
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