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Students react to Ginsburg talk

| Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Junior Janet Stengle walked down the aisle in Purcell Pavilion to a microphone in the middle of the floor. More than 7,000 people watched as she looked U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the eye and asked a question.

“Does a Supreme Court justice have a role as a public figure, and if so, how would you define that role?”

Ginsburg smiled and started talking, describing the responsibility she feels she and the other Supreme Court justices have to stay engage with the public and help others understand what’s going on at a given point in time.

“I felt like I was legitimately having a conversation with her,” Stengle said. “When we stood up, she made sure she was looking right at us and speaking to us directly, and that was a really cool experience.”

Students and members of the South Bend community lined up outside Purcell Pavilion on Monday afternoon to hear Ginsburg speak at the interview-style event sponsored by the Office of the President, Notre Dame Law School and Notre Dame Student Government. Entrance was free but limited to those who reserved tickets beforehand.

Many came simply for the political engagement.

“I just love politics, and I want to learn more about it,” freshman Colin Brankin said. “I’m very interested to hear a Supreme Court justice talk — especially one that’s as notable and as possibly controversial as she is.”

Others came for more personal reasons.

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg is my hero,” senior Abigayle Rhode-Pausina said. “She is everything I want to be when I grow up.”

Ginsburg garnered a large turnout from the student body, which is noteworthy in itself, senior Sheryl Cherian said.

“She’s an inspiring human that makes policy accessible, and I feel like that has everything to do with all the youth coming out,” she said.

Stengle said she hopes to go to law school some day. She and the other students selected to ask questions at the event got to meet Ginsburg at a reception afterwards.

“I liked her point when she explained that the court doesn’t make change, people make change,” Stengle said. “I liked how she cleared that up — how they don’t have a set agenda, that they just do what comes at them.”

Students said they were surprised, at points, by Ginsburg — like when she whipped out a pocket-sized version of the Constitution or joked about her “notorious” nickname.

“She was sassier than I was expecting,” senior Leah Jacob said.

“And my favorite part was 100 percent when she said there would be enough women on the Supreme Court when there were nine,” senior Holly Backstrom added.

Though junior Will Lederer found Ginsburg’s personal history interesting, he said he would have liked to hear a little more about how she formulates and delivers opinions in Supreme Court cases.

“I’m a conservative, a pretty staunch conservative,” he said. “And I think it’s pretty important to hear the other sides of arguments.”

Senior Paul Rudnicki said he thinks the chance to see any Supreme Court justice speak is one worth taking.

“The Supreme Court is a major force shaping some of the most important issues — like immigration, energy policy, voting laws,” he said. “And Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been a prominent member for many years.”

This is the second consecutive year a Supreme Court justice visited campus — Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke at DeBartolo Performing Arts Center in 2015.

Rhode-Pausina said she enjoyed having the event in Purcell Pavillion; she wasn’t able to get tickets to the Sotomayor event last fall.

Inviting big names like Ginsburg and Sotomayor to campus reflects well on the University, Lederer said.

“For her to accept our invitation here is very impressive. I mean, she had to go pretty far out of her way. She had to make time to come here,” he said. “That’s very impressive for Notre Dame as a community.”

Perhaps a new tradition is forming.

“I’d love to see [Justice] Clarence Thomas next year or [Chief Justice] John Roberts in future years, if we’re going to continue this trend,” Lederer said.

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About Katie Galioto

Katie, the Observer's current Managing Editor, is a senior majoring in political science, with minors in Business Economics and Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She's a former Walsh Hall resident who now lives off campus and hails from Chanhassen, Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter @katiegalioto.

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  • Jessica

    Thomas was here three years ago (and Roberts long before him). I know it’s a lifetime in the eyes of a college student, but evidence the university has invited a range of voices.