September 18th marked the passing of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A respected jurist and advocate for the legal rights of women, later in life Ginsburg gained prominence as a cultural icon. However, this week while many outlets have highlighted her legal contributions and political importance, we would like to showcase an interview where Justice Ginsburg discusses writing.
In an interview with Brian Garner, an American lawyer, lexicographer, and teacher, Ginsburg describes some of her ideas about the relationship between law and speech. In addition to sharing her thoughts about teaching writing, she remembers her great teachers—Vladimir Nabokov and Robert Kushner–who instilled a love of the sound of language and the need for precision in the written word.
For Justice Ginsburg, Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov instilled a love of the sound of words. Robert Kushner, her constitutional law professor, taught her the important skill of creating the most substantive works in the simplest way by deleting any unnecessary adjectives. Treating every word as significant in the construction of a phrase improves the individual’s ability to convey thought with great care.
While jurists and historians mine the hundreds of opinions and dissents Ginsburg penned, they should remember that each word, phrase, and clause was carefully crafted. As Ginsburg alludes to in her interview, the renewal of education in America must share this goal: that students will engage with deeper streams of thought through refined, careful expression in writing and speech.