Once, when Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a young, studious college kid taking a chemistry class at Cornell University, her professor said he’d give her a practice exam before the real test.

When Ginsburg went to class the next day, she discovered that the professor had actually just slipped her an advance copy of the real test. “And I knew exactly what he wanted in return,” she recalled in an interview Sunday with NPR’s Nina Totenberg at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. “And that’s just one of many examples.”

Ginsburg recounted the story in a roughly 90-minute discussion with Totenberg that touched on the 84-year-old justice’s experiences with sexual misconduct and her reaction to the #MeToo movement, as well as her career as a women’s rights advocate and her future on the high court. She was in Utah for the premiere of “RBG,” a new documentary about her life that was co-produced by CNN.

Ginsburg didn’t let the incident with the professor go: “I went to his office and I said, ‘How dare you? How dare you do this?’ And that was the end of that.”

As a protest, she added, she deliberately made two mistakes on the exam.

And that was just the beginning of her career fighting for women’s rights.

Ginsburg‘s work

  • She co-founded the Women’s Rights Law Reporter, a pioneering law journal out of Rutgers School of Law, where she taught.
  • Ginsburg also co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project.
  • In the mid-1970s, she argued a half-dozen gender discrimination cases before the high court, winning all but one.
  • She became a Supreme Court justice in 1993.

Ginsburg’s thoughts on #MeToo

When Totenberg asked Ginsburg for her thoughts on the #MeToo movement, the justice didn’t miss a beat.

“I think it’s about time,” she said. “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 more and more women have publicly accused high-profile men of harassment and assault, some have expressed concern about a potential backlash that could undermine the movement. Ginsburg said she’s not afraid.

“Let’s see where it goes. So far, it’s been great,” she said. “When I see women appearing every place in numbers I’m less worried about backlash than I might have been 20 years ago.”

She stayed silent for 21 years after Harvey Weinstein assaulted her. Today, Rowena Chiu is advocating for the first federal #MeToo legislation.

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