Ruth Bader Ginsburg talks about her run-ins with sexual harassers, those ‘Gins-burn’ sketches and her feelings about Sundance’s ‘RBG’ documentary premiere

Supreme Court justice left speechless by film, says Park City reminds her of a fairy tale

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg arrives at Sundance's Cinema Cafe prior to being interviewed by NPR's Nina Totenberg, in connection with the documentary "RBG", Sunday, January 21, 2018.

Park City • It took a documentary about her illustrious life to leave Ruth Bader Ginsburg, author of eloquent Supreme Court opinions, speechless.

“I knew it was going to be good, but I haven’t got words for how marvelous it was,” Ginsburg told a Park City audience Sunday evening, after the premiere of “RBG,” a CNN Films-produced documentary about her, at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

Ginsburg received standing ovations from the Sundance audience, but she turned her compliments to directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen, whose work she had seen before. Ginsburg praised their resourcefulness. “Some of the photographs I had not seen,” she said. “I don’t know where you found them.”

She called Park City “a wonderful town. It’s part out of a fairy tale, and part looks like Switzerland. I wish I hadn’t given away my skis.”

She was also impressed with meeting Robert Redford, the Sundance Institute’s founder. “He’s just as good looking [in person],” she said.

Redford claimed the honor of introducing Ginsburg at a Sunday afternoon event, a wide-ranging onstage interview with NPR justice reporter Nina Totenberg, at the cozy Park City Elks Lodge.

In the Elks Lodge interview, Ginsburg told the standing-room-only audience that there’s nothing new about sexual harassment.

“Every woman of my vintage knows about sexual harassment, though we didn’t have a name for it,” she said.

Ginsburg told of one instance when she was a student at Cornell. Ahead of a big exam, her chemistry professor offered to give her a practice exam.

“The next day, the test is the practice exam, and I knew exactly what he wanted in return,” Ginsburg said. “I went to his office and said, ‘How dare you?’ And that was the end of that.”

On the other hand, there was the law professor at Columbia University who got her her first position as a law clerk. The professor recommended Ginsburg to one judge, who was a Columbia alumnus and always hired Columbia students, but the judge was hesitant to hire a woman with a 4-year-old child. The professor offered to line up a male student if Ginsburg didn’t work out.

“That was the carrot,” Ginsburg said. “The stick was, [the professor told the judge], ‘If you don’t give her a chance, I will never recommend another Columbia student for you.’”

When Totenberg asked Ginsburg about the #MeToo movement of women calling attention to powerful men engaging in sexual misconduct, she said, “It’s about time. So far, it’s been great.”

When Totenberg asked if she’s concerned about a backlash to the #MeToo movement, Ginsburg replied, “When I see women appearing everywhere in numbers, I worry less about a backlash.”

Before her appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993, Ginsburg built a reputation of fighting for women’s rights in a series of court cases. She argued six major cases before the Supreme Court and won five of them.

The Cinema Cafe event drew VIPs to the Elks Lodge, including Redford. Some fans stood in the freezing cold on Main Street for three hours waiting for the few available seats.

Totenberg steered clear of questions about current politics — knowing Ginsburg would refuse to answer them anyway — and instead asked about the justice’s other interests. Among the tidbits the Sundance audience learned:

• The first movie she really loved was “Gone With the Wind,” though “I don’t know if I would love it if I saw it today.” More recently, she really enjoyed the drama “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and the romance “Call Me By Your Name.” About the latter film, she added, “I have to find out where in Italy they filmed it.”

• She loves opera but never explored becoming a singer “because I’m a monotone. But in my dreams, I’m on stage at the Metropolitan Opera, and I’m about to sing ‘Tosca.’ Then I remember, I’m a monotone.”

• Supreme Court justices are allowed to decorate their chambers with art borrowed from the National Gallery. “My colleagues’ tastes run in two directions,” she said. “One is portraits — portraits of long-dead men. The other is outdoor scenes.” Ginsburg prefers modern art, from the National Gallery and the Museum for American Art.

• She enjoys Kate McKinnon’s satiric portrayal of her on “Saturday Night Live,” though she had never seen McKinnon’s sketches until the makers of “RBG” showed them to her. “I would like to say ‘Gins-burned,’” she said.

• When she was a student at Cornell, there were four men to every female student. “It was the ideal school for parents of daughters. Because if you couldn’t get your man at Cornell, you were hopeless,” she said. It was there she met Marty Ginsburg, her husband for 53 years until his death. Marty was the one man at Cornell who appreciated her brain. “No guy, up until then, was the least bit interested in what I thought,” she said. “He made me feel that I was better than I thought I was.”

• Ginsburg, who turns 85 in March, has hired a full staff of clerks through the 2020 term, an indication that she’s not looking to retire anytime soon. “As long as I can do this job full steam, I will be here,” she said.