Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg appears at the Temple Emanu-El Skirball Center on Sept. 21, 2016 in New York City. (Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

Ginsburg Institute for Justice Needed for Our Depleted Democracy

Is there any better way to compliment Justice Ginsburg’s legacy and carry forward her foundational work for the American people?"

Ralph Nader

Jean Monnet – a founder of the European Union once said: “Nothing is possible without men, but nothing is lasting without institutions.”

I’m reminded of his observation each time our country loses a “just” Supreme Court Justice. So, what will follow after the few days of prominent encomiums at memorial events and editorial praise of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

Historians will record her decisions, writings, and advocacy. Many people will celebrate her groundbreaking contributions to equal rights for women and other civil rights. Justice Ginsburg’s fervent admirers, however, should look not only at past accomplishments but to creative ways to build on a great and enduring legacy.

Several years ago, I tried to interest some of Justice John Paul Stevens’ former law clerks (many of whom became successful lawyers) to enlist their colleagues in establishing a “John Paul Stevens Institute for Justice.” In 2014, retired Justice Stevens, at age 94, had just published another book – Six Amendments: How And Why We Should Change The Constitution. This book was then the latest product in his vigorous retirement period of writings and addresses.

I wrote to Justice Stevens urging him to give a nod to his 100 or more clerks, many of whom were wealthy attorneys. He was too modest. A few former clerks showed interest, but not to the point of initiating action.

A similar attempt to persuade supporters of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor fell flat. At the time, she was pressing hard for full legal aid for poor people seeking justice and real civic education in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools.

After she retired from the Court, she criticized the 2010 Supreme Court decision – Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission – that opened the floodgates for corporate campaign cash. Her former clerks did not envision an “Institute for Justice” in honor of their adored mentor. Justice O’Connor was also honest enough to publicly acknowledge regret about her vote in the 5-4 decision to install George W. Bush as president.

Was I just engaging in fanciful dreaming about adding these new institutional oak trees for justice to replenish our depleting democratic forest? Not at all. A vibrant Brennan Center for Justice has been on the ramparts for justice since 1995. Located at New York University Law School, it was founded by the family and former law clerks of Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, who was nominated to the Court by President Eisenhower.

With an annual budget of $26 million, the tough Brennan Center for Justice has produced a remarkable output on ways to advance improvements in criminal justice, electoral procedures, and broader public participation in the circles of power.

The Center has been described as “part think-tank, part public interest law firm [that litigates] and part communications hub,” working to advance “equal justice for all.”

It started when one former law clerk stepped up, followed by more who joined the effort to create this institutional tribute to Justice Brennan. Together, they raised the seed money and this new institution was launched to implement the law as if people mattered first and foremost.

The same kind of institution can be created quickly, should Justice Ginsburg’s over 100 law clerks, from her many years as a federal circuit court judge and as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, heed Jean Monnet’s words.

Given the immense goodwill and unprecedented popular fame of Justice Ginsburg, especially among women, as a pioneering lawyer and jurist, raising the basic funding should be easy. Moreover, foundations would line up to back this initiative and its projects.

For this to happen, the energy from the huge outpouring of accolades since her passing on September 18, 2020, need to be promptly transformed into an operating vision and not left as a nostalgic memory.

Some of the former law clerks who could form the core group are Amanda L. Tyler, professor of law at the University of California-Berkeley; Kelsi Corkran, who heads the Supreme Court practice at a large law firm; Ruthanne Deutsch, an appellate litigator; Elizabeth Prelogar, a Supreme Court and appellate litigator; Trevor W. Morrison, Dean of New York University School of Law; Neil S. Siegel, professor of law and political science at Duke University School of Law; Paul Schiff Berman, professor of law at George Washington University Law School; and many others who revered and were so inspired by the feisty, resilient, kind Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

I’m sure that Brennan Center’s president, Michael Waldman, would be pleased to share his experience in furthering such a noble and lasting mission.

Is there any better way to compliment Justice Ginsburg’s legacy and carry forward her foundational work for the American people? It is really entirely in the hands of Justice Ginsburg’s admirers to accomplish this worthy goal.

Perhaps the creation of the Ginsburg Institute for Justice will jumpstart the now influential former clerks of Justice Stevens and Justice O’Connor to follow the example of Justice Brennan’s clerks. It is never too late for more institutional infusions toward a just society.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate and the author of "The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future" (2012). His new book is, "Wrecking America: How Trump’s Lies and Lawbreaking Betray All(2020, co-authored with Mark Green).

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Dems Urge DOJ Antitrust Probe Into $43 Billion Discovery-WarnerMedia Merger

"Giant corporations must not be allowed to stomp out competition, put up barriers to enter the market, and continue to exclude Latinos from the media industry."

Jessica Corbett ·


DOJ Lawsuit Challenging Texas Gerrymandering Met With Applause, Calls for Action in Congress

"While we are grateful for the involvement of the federal government, what we need to stop the five-decade cycle of having to take legal action every 10 years is for Congress to pass the Freedom to Vote Act," said one advocate.

Julia Conley ·


'Nobody Is Above the Law': Elizabeth Warren Applauds SEC Probe of Trump's Social Media Venture

"There may have been serious violations of securities laws during the proposed merger of Digital World Acquisition Corp. and Trump's media company," said the Massachusetts Democrat.

Kenny Stancil ·


'We Won't Stop Fighting,' Vow South African Activists After Judge OKs Shell Seismic Blasting at Sea

"We must do everything we can to undo the destructive colonial legacy of extractivism, until we live in a world where people and the planet come before the profits of toxic fossil fuel companies."

Brett Wilkins ·


Biden Continues Drilling Boom on Public Lands Despite Campaign Pledge, Analysis Shows

"The reality is that in the battle between the oil industry and Biden, the industry is winning."

Julia Conley ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo