WALTHAM — US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered words of praise at Brandeis University on Thursday for the school's namesake, telling more than 2,500 people that longtime justice Louis D. Brandeis had "an ability to combine a dedication to judicial restraint with a readiness to defend civil rights and liberties."
Ginsburg delivered her remarks at the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center during a panel discussion titled "Louis D. Brandeis, the Supreme Court and American Democracy." It was part of the school's semester-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of Brandeis's nomination to the high court in 1916.
The first Jewish Supreme Court justice, Brandeis served on the court for 23 years.
Ginsburg, revered on the left as a progressive hero and reviled by many conservatives as an activist judge, said Brandeis, a well-known public interest lawyer before his tenure on the bench, "was quite explicit about the need to control corporations."
She praised his rigorous, fact-based approach to drafting briefs as a lawyer while always remaining cognizant of the real-world implications of the law.
Brandeis served on the high court from June 1916 to February 1939. He died in 1941 at the age of 84. His notable opinions include his 1928 dissent in Olmstead v. United States, which dealt with early wiretapping technology, and one the year before in Whitney v. California, which held that fear of serious injury alone could not justify the suppression of free speech and assembly.
Ginsburg told the crowd that Brandeis "would have deplored" the Supreme Court's 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case, which eliminated restrictions on corporate contributions to political campaigns.
But she added, "I have no doubt [he] would have agreed with the majority's decision to salvage, not to destroy, the Affordable Care Act," referring to the court's 2012 ruling upholding President Obama's signature health care law.
Additional panelists Thursday included Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Philippa Strum, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Jeffrey Toobin, legal affairs reporter for the New Yorker magazine, and US District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf. The event was moderated by Frederick Lawrence, the former president of Brandeis.
Toobin said Brandeis, a fervent defender of free speech, felt that if the government "let all speech flourish," people would hear many arguments and make reasoned decisions in the public arena.
"He didn't anticipate the Trump campaign," Toobin said to laughter, referring to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Toobin also noted that Brandeis believed "the constitution had to respond to what was going on in the real world."
Strum echoed that sentiment and said Brandies felt that as "societal conditions changed it was necessary for the law in a democracy to change."
Earlier Thursday, Ginsburg met with about 30 students enrolled in classes on Justice Brandeis or the Supreme Court, or who previously took the courses.
She fielded several questions, including one from sophomore Jennifer Almodovar, an aspiring lawyer who asked about the status of women in the traditionally male-dominated legal profession.
"I would be very optimistic about prospects for young women entering" the field, Ginsburg said. "Opportunities are excellent, but there are challenges. And one of the challenges is not to react in [anger] if you think you are being put down because you are a woman."
Another student, junior Uday Jain, menti0oned Brandeis's reputation as "the people's lawyer" who fought large corporations and asked Ginsburg, 82, if she believes there is currently a system of checks on big business in government.
Ginsburg said that while there are far more regulatory agencies now than existed during Brandeis's life, there was still a prevailing belief in recent decades that industry should be deregulated.
"And then we found out what happened," she said in reference to the financial crisis of 2007.