Justice Ginsburg Discusses Jewish Heritage in PBS Special

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Thursday that the change in U.S. acceptance of Jews can be seen on the Supreme Court, where two members are Jewish yet their faith played no role in their selection.

Ginsburg, appointed to the court by President Clinton in 1993, is the sixth Jewish justice. Justice Stephen Breyer, named the following year, is the seventh.

"Our religion had nothing to do with our appointment. It didn't influence our choice in one way or another," Ginsburg said.

Referring to her five Jewish predecessors, Ginsburg said, "We're justices who happen to be Jews. We're not Jewish justices as they were."

Ginsburg, 74, spoke at a 100-year-old synagogue in downtown Washington about her heritage and participation in the television documentary "The Jewish Americans" that is airing over three weeks on public television.

Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish justice, joined the court in 1916. In the documentary, Ginsburg describes Brandeis' encounters with anti-Semitism on the court in the person of Justice James McReynolds.

"McReynolds was an out-and-out anti-Semite and he treated this brilliant man with utter disdain. When Brandeis would speak at conference, he would stand up and leave the room," Ginsburg said.

One year, she said, there was no official court photograph because McReynolds refused to stand next to Brandeis.

"Brandeis ignored it. Dignity is the right word to describe his response to that bigotry," Ginsburg said.

Ginsburg was born and raised in Brooklyn, the daughter of an immigrant father and a mother who was born four months after her family arrived in the United States.

"She was conceived in the old world and born in the new world," Ginsburg said.

Ginsburg's mother was a bookkeeper before she got married.

"What's the difference between a bookkeeper in New York's garment district and a U.S. Supreme Court justice?" she said in the documentary. "One generation."