Remembering U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's visit to Willamette

by Willamette University College of Law,

US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg visited the College of Law in 2008

  • US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Willamette University College of Law welcomed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to campus on Sept. 12 and 13. Ginsburg’s visit marked the first event in a yearlong celebration of the College of Law’s 125th academic year. View images from her visit

A message from Dean Emeritus Symeon C. Symeonides

In 2008, the College of Law had its 125th anniversary. That year we also completed a multimillion-dollar renovation of the historic Carnegie building, which we acquired a few years earlier. These two occasions called for a big celebration, to be crowned with the presence of a superstar. My superstar was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whom I was fortunate to know when I served as her host at my previous school. I was thrilled when she quickly and graciously accepted my invitation to pay a visit to Willamette.

Justice Ginsburg spent two unforgettable days here, September 12 and 13, talking to our students, faculty, alumni, and benefactors. Everybody was surprised by how approachable she was. Indeed, her grace and humility was disarming. This page and the slideshow provide some of the details of her visit.

One detail not disclosed until now occurred on the third day. To give a taste of Oregon to Justice Ginsburg and her husband, Prof. Marty Ginsburg, we organized a visit to a vineyard in the Carlton hills. Ken Wright, the “master of Oregon’s pinot noir,” gave us a lecture about winemaking, but also geology and climatology, followed by wine tasting. As Justice Ginsburg noted in her handwritten thankyou note, this was a most memorable afternoon— the weather was perfect, and the wine superb.

With Justice Ginsburg’s passing, our country has lost a giant and Willamette has lost a friend.

Symeon C. Symeonides
Dean, 1999-2011

Read the introduction Dean Symeonides gave for Justice Ginsburg

 Oregon Civic Justice Center Dedication

Justice Ginsburg and Dean Symeon Symeonides cut the ribbonGinsburg participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony during the dedication of the College of Law’s new Oregon Civic Justice Center on the morning of Sept. 12. Held on the front steps of the newly renovated building, the event drew more than 100 people who gathered to witness this important milestone in the law school’s history.

Dean Emeritus Symeon C. Symeonides welcomed the crowd. He offered thanks to the generous benefactors who supported the building renovation and programs housed in the new center and to then-President M. Lee Pelton for his unwavering support of the law school’s educational mission. Symeonides also praised David R. Kenagy, dean emeritus of the law school and former executive director of the Oregon Law Commission, for conceiving the idea of the justice center. “We are all delighted to see his vision become reality,” Symeonides said. “The Oregon Civic Justice Center will meet genuine human need in our community and serve the neediest among us,” Kenagy said during an enthusiastic speech. “That is civic justice.” Symeonides had the honor of inviting Justice Ginsburg to cut the ribbon, officially opening the Oregon Civic Justice Center. Following the ribbon-cutting, Ginsburg was asked to unveil a plaque on the front of the structure — which honored her role in the dedication of the building. “I never expected my name would be part of this beautiful edifice,” the Justice said. “With enormous appreciation, I wish all users of this building well in their important mission to advance justice in our land.”

Academic Procession and Atkinson Lecture 

Later in the afternoon, Ginsburg participated in an academic procession to Smith Auditorium with University faculty and received an honorary Doctor of Laws from the Board of Trustees. She then presented the first lecture in Willamette University’s 2008–09 Atkinson Lecture Series, which has welcomed world leaders, authors, actors, scientists and educators to campus since it was founded in 1956. Following the lecture, the University hosted a private reception and dinner in honor of Ginsburg’s visit to Willamette.

Law and Government Symposium Remarks

Following the dedication ceremony, Ginsburg made a brief lunchtime presentation at the Center for Law and Government’s fall symposium, “Presidential Power in the 21st Century.” Speaking under a tent on the quad, Ginsburg detailed a day typical in the life of the Supreme Court justices with great humor and humility. The Oregon Civic Justice Center donors had the honor of attending a private meeting with Ginsburg after the building dedication. 

Constitutional Law Class with Students

On Saturday, Sept. 13, the College of Law hosted a special Constitutional Law class for law students with Justice Ginsburg. Professor Steven K. Green moderated the discussion. More than 250 members of the law school community attended the event. Following the Saturday morning class, Ginsburg attended a luncheon with the law faculty in the new Oregon Civic Justice Center.

Jane Ginsburg Kicked Off Annual Lecture Series

Jane Ginsburg and Dean Emeritus Symeon SymeonidesThe 125th Anniversary Celebration weekend proved to be a family affair, as the Justice’s daughter, Professor Jane C. Ginsburg of Columbia University, presented the first lecture in the College of Law’s 14th Annual Speaker Series on Sept. 10. “The Author’s Place in the Future of Copyright” addressed the rights of authors in traditional publishing and digital media. “Reports of the death of the professional author are greatly exaggerated,” she assured the audience. “The writer may be dead, but she still responds to economic incentives.” During her lecture, Ginsburg introduced a Web site she helped launch at Columbia University that assists authors in managing control of their copyrights. For more information, visit  

Oregon Civic Justice Center

Located on the corner of State and Winter streets, the stately structure was built in 1912 and served as Salem’s first public library until 1972, when it was acquired by the YWCA. Willamette University purchased the building in 2003. The College of Law spent one year and more than $4 million renovating the structure, with invaluable support from the following generous donors and foundation grants:

Donors & Foundations

• Melvin Henderson-Rubio BA’74
• The Collins Foundation
• Meyer Memorial Trust
• Wollenberg Foundation and Richard H. Wollenberg JD’78
• Cherida Collins Smith BA’72
• James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation
• Maribeth Collins H’93
• Ben B. Cheney Foundation

The center houses important law school programs that help connect the College of Law with the broader community, including the Clinical Law Program; Center for Law and Government; Center for Dispute Resolution; Center for Religion, Law and Democracy; and Willamette Law Review.

About Willamette University College of Law

Opened in 1883, Willamette University College of Law is the first law school in the Pacific Northwest. Willamette Law boasts an innovative program designed to prepare leaders in government, private practice, and business with the lawyering skills needed in the 21st Century. In recent years, outside industry watchers such as Moody’s and The National Jurist Magazine have recognized Willamette Law for its positive job placement results. Willamette lawyers are the best dealmakers, problem solvers, community leaders, and change-makers in the most innovative and exciting region in the country. Our location — nestled in the heart of the Willamette Valley and across the street from the Oregon State Capitol, Supreme Court, and many state agencies — is an advantage that cannot be matched anywhere in the region. The college has a long tradition at the forefront of legal education and is committed to advancing knowledge through excellent teaching, scholarship, and mentorship. Leading faculty, thriving externship and clinical law programs, ample practical skills courses and a proactive career placement office prepare Willamette law students for today's legal job market.

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