In an interview earlier this week, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she has “no doubt” that sexism played a role in the 2016 presidential election that saw Hillary Clinton lose to Donald Trump. “That was a major, major factor,” she said. Elsewhere in the interview, she sought to characterize the kind of discrimination that still exists against women.
It’s not necessarily deliberate, she said. Rather, “what remains is what’s often called unconscious bias.”
And then she gave an example of how she once shut down that sort of sexism.
Ginsburg, 84, retold the story during a wide-ranging sit-down with Charlie Rose at an event hosted by the 92nd Street Y in New York.
Ginsburg said that during one oral argument while Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was still on the bench (she retired in 2006), Ginsburg cut her colleague off.
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“I thought that she had finished, so I asked a question and Justice O’Connor said, ‘Just a minute, I’m not finished,'” Ginsburg told Rose.
The next day, a headline in USA Today read: “Rude Ruth Interrupts Sandra.”
“At lunch,” Ginsburg recalled, “I said, ‘Sandra, I’m so sorry I stepped on your question.’ She said, ‘Ruth, the guys do it to each other all the time; think nothing of it.'”
When the story’s reporter later confronted Ginsburg about the incident, Ginsburg said she asked him, “Have you watched my male colleagues? Do they interrupt each other?”
“He watched for a month,” Ginsburg told Rose, “And then he came to my chambers and said, ‘You know you’re right. They do they interrupt each other all the time, but I never noticed it.'”
(In fact, Northwestern researchers found that female justices were responsible for just 4% of oral argument interruptions despite making up—at the time of the study—24% of the bench.)
The kind of unconscious bias displayed by the reporter can taint women’s professional progress. (Ginsburg called to mind the oft-cited example of how orchestras were predominately male before the introduction of blind auditions.) To stop that from happening, women need to be the ones in positions of power, Ginsburg said.
“The more women there are in decision making places, the more women will enter those fields,” she said.