Peoria High grad shared tea, cake and opera opinions with Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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PEORIA — Some people didn’t see eye-to-eye with Ruth Bader Ginsburg regarding her U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

John Elwood didn’t see eye-to-eye with Ginsburg about opera. But that appeared to be a minor point of contention regarding Ginsburg, the 27-year Supreme Court justice who died Friday at 87.

A 1985 Peoria High School graduate, Elwood is an attorney in Washington, D.C., who nine times argued cases in front of Ginsburg and her fellow justices. Elwood also was a clerk for retired Justice Anthony Kennedy and is friends with his replacement, Brett Kavanaugh.

Elwood’s glimpses of Ginsburg over the years appeared to be few but lasting.

"The main thing that just impressed me was her discipline and her kind of iron will," Elwood said Saturday. "She was a night owl. She’d roll in (to court) pretty late, 11 o’clock or noon, and she would work super-late, until like 2 a.m., but she would also work super-hard.

"The day after Thanksgiving, she was in the office."

In the days when Elwood was working for Kennedy, in the late 1990s, it was a tradition for Supreme Court justices to have lunch on occasion with their colleagues’ clerks.

Exceptions, Elwood said, were Sandra Day O’Connor, who would play host to a cocktail party; and Ginsburg, who would have a tea-and-cake reception in her chambers.

When Elwood attended, the cake came courtesy of Ginsburg’s late husband, Martin, who baked it.

"He was a very good cook," said Elwood, who grew up on Peoria’s West Bluff.

RBG was shy and a precise speaker, according to Elwood, and the clerks were intimidated by her presence. Prolonged gaps in conversation weren’t uncommon.

One conversation between Elwood and Ginsburg, an opera buff, became even more stilted, apparently.

"I said I really preferred German operas," said Elwood, a former assistant to the U.S. Solicitor General. "I think she took that as a slight on Italian opera. She seemed a little bit miffed after that."

Opera was a passion Ginsburg shared with her best friend on the court, late Justice Antonin Scalia. They often attended the opera together and sometimes joined the cast onstage as extras, according to Elwood.

Such relationships between opposites — Ginsburg was liberal, Scalia was conservative — don’t seem to happen much these days in D.C. Then again, Ginsburg’s rise from humble roots to feminist icon and the nation’s top court might not happen often, either.

"(She was) a public-school kid from Brooklyn who went on to achieve tremendous things in a world that started out not treating her as an equal," Elwood said. "It’s just astonishing the things she managed to accomplish."

via East Peoria Times-Courier – East Peoria, IL

September 20, 2020 at 08:53AM

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