U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg concluded a visit to Buffalo with a talk to an overflow crowd at Kleinhans Music Hall Monday night.
The justice came here because the late Wayne Wisbaum was a college and law school friend. Wisbaum died last winter and was a key figure in restoring Kleinhans to its original polish and history.
Ginsburg took questions from leading local lawyers about her life, her career, her family and some of her most famous decisions and dissents, as the court has changed shape. She talked about everything from raising children to laws that discourage voting.
"From having access to the polls, through various devices: voter IDs, closing polling places, shortening the hours when people can vote, all laws that would have been denied pre-clearance," she said.
Ginsburg also dissented in a series of cases over religion in the public sector, most recently a memorial cross for World War I dead on public land in Maryland.
"The Establishment Clause that says that government is not supposed to mix with religion, it's not supposed to ally itself with any one or another religious faith. So it was a minority view," she said. "Only Justice Sotomayor joined me in that dissent, but I did feel very strongly about it."
Ginsburg talked about the related Hobby Lobby case, in which company owners won a verdict that their religious values overrode providing birth control to company employees.
She also criticized the bitter partisanship that has come to characterize national politics, from a time when she was confirmed to the High Court 96-3.
"I hope one day there will be people who care about our country, both Democrats and Republicans, who come together and say enough of this dysfunctional legislature," Ginsburg said. "We're supposed to serve the people of the United States (applause)."
Before becoming a judge, Ginsburg had a long career in women's rights issues, as the legal profession slowly admitted women to law schools and then to legal practice. Lawyer Marissa Coheley said the justice carved a way for women to become lawyers and have families at the same time.
"The world has changed. We still face some of the same challenges, but I will say now that there are more women in the profession, we help each other and hold each other up," Coheley said. "So we all know the challenges that we're all facing together and there's more of us to help fill in. I know my job is made easier because my female colleagues who are there to pick up the slack when I have to leave because a kid's sick."
Karen Bailey Turner was in the audience, coming in from Rochester to hear the justice.
"I'm running to become a judge in a county where there are no woman judges currently on the bench that I'm running for and there's never been a person of color elected," Bailey Turner said. So, for me, from Monroe County, where Rochester is, to sit and listen to Justice Ginsberg, who's such an icon, is just a phenomenal experience."
Retired State Supreme Court Justice Tim Drury said the 86-year-old justice is the real deal, coming off recent radiation therapy for pancreatic cancer.
"It was balanced. You could tell why she's so popular. You could tell why she's so good at what she does," Drury said. "She's a humble, but very articulate and meaningful person. She does just what she's advertised. It's a wonderful thing and I hope she keeps on and stays on the bench."
The visit of Ginsburg, pillar of the court's liberal wing, means Buffalo has been visited by two book ends of the Supreme Court. One of the most conservative justices, Samuel Alito, visited in October 2016. Chief Justice John Roberts was born in Buffalo.