Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in on the joke.
The Supreme Court justice told NPR’s Nina Totenberg during an interview at the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday that she’s a big fan of Kate McKinnon, the comedian who parodies the jurist on SNL as a vitamin swigging, HGH-taking progressive icon determined to outlast the Trump administration.
“I would like to say ‘Gins-burned’ sometimes to my colleagues,” Ginsburg said to loud applause, referencing McKinnon’s tag-line. “I liked the actress who portrayed me.”
Even at Sundance, where the likes of Keira Knightley and Jake Gyllenhaal can be seen walking around the snow-covered town, there’s no bigger star than Ginsburg. Crowds waited hours to see her speak this morning, and there’s a reason. A cottage industry has grown up around the 84-year-old justice, from comic books to coffee mugs, all bearing the nickname “The Notorious RBG.” Asked about what her fellow justices think about her celebrity, Ginsburg told Totenberg, “My colleagues are judiciously silent about ‘the Notorious RBG.'”
Levity aside, Ginsburg made it clear that she has no intention of stepping down from the court despite the fact that she is in her mid-80’s. Before Donald Trump had been elected, there had been speculation that Ginsburg might retire so a President Hillary Clinton could appoint a liberal to replace her on the bench.
“As long as I can do the job full steam, I will be here,” said Ginsburg.
Ginsburg has traveled to Park City, Utah, the mountainside setting of Sundance, because “RBG,” a new documentary about her life and glass-ceiling-shattering career, is premiering at the festival on Sunday. Given the occasion, Totenberg quizzed Ginsburg on her favorite movies.
A childhood favorite, she confessed, was “Gone With the Wind,” though she admitted she wasn’t sure she would appreciate it as much now (a nod perhaps to its racial politics). Some recent films that she enjoyed were “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “Call Me by Your Name.” Ginsburg is eager to find out where “Call Me by Your Name,” a sun-kissed romance, was shot in Italy and called “Three Billboards,” a feminist revenge tale, a “great film.”
After the capsule reviews, the conversation took a more serious turn. Ginsburg was asked to weigh in on the movie industry’s current sexual harassment crisis and the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements that have gathered steam in the wake of allegations of misconduct against the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Dustin Hoffman, Matt Lauer, and Kevin Spacey.
“It’s about time,” said Ginsburg. “For so long women were silent thinking there was nothing you could do about it. But now the law is on the side of women or men who encounter harassment and that’s a good thing.”
As the numbers of accused mount and the issue dominates headlines, some commentators have raised the possibility that all the attention could lead to a backlash. Not Ginsburg.
“Let’s see where it goes,” she said. “So far it’s been great.”
“When I see women appearing every place in numbers I’m less worried about backlash than I might have been 20 years ago,” Ginsburg added.
The justice made it clear that she had firsthand experience with harassment and discrimination, both as an Ivy League student and later as a woman in a legal industry dominated by men.
“Every woman of my vintage knows what sexual harassment is, although we didn’t have a name for it,” she said. “The attitude towards sexual harassment was simply get past it. Boys will be boys.”
After graduating at the top of her class from Harvard Law School, Ginsburg struggled to find a clerkship because of her gender. Later, as a professor at Rutgers, she took legal action when she wasn’t being paid as much as her male colleagues. When she complained that her co-worker was earning more for the same work, she was told that he had a wife and two children to support while she had a “husband with a good paying job.”
Even as an undergraduate at Cornell, Ginsburg was made aware that the deck was stacked against women. An instructor gave her a practice chemistry exam that turned out to be the exact same version of the test. The implication was that she owed him sexual favors.
“I went to his office and I said, ‘how dare you?,'” remembered Ginsburg. “And that was the end of that.”
She had one other way of signaling her protest. On the test, she deliberately made two mistakes.