Seminar celebrating Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg features Judge Ann Claire Williams (Ret.) and Jones Day partner Michael Gray

Judge Ann Claire Williams (Ret.), and Jones Day partner Michael Gray moderated and led the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center’s event honoring groundbreaking Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The virtual seminar from October 2020, titled "Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World," featured Judge Williams interviewing Linda Hirshman, author of the best-selling book of the same name, about the trailblazing women. Despite the justices' very different backgrounds, the talk focused on what the first and second women appointed to the country's highest court had in common—and the lessons for women of subsequent generations.

Judge Williams, who is currently leading Jones Day's efforts in advancing the rule of law in Africa, remarked "I knew and was good friends with both Justice O'Connor and Justice Ginsburg," in a follow-up interview.

"Michael Gray, who is on the board of the Illinois Holocaust Museum, knew that and asked me to moderate the discussion. I was honored.   I also knew Linda Hirshman from back in the day when she was a practicing lawyer, and I enjoyed reconnecting with her."

“Jones Day’s work with the Holocaust Museum & Education Center is driven by our belief in speaking up on the injustices of inequity and intolerance,” said Mr. Gray, who also serves as Co-Client Affairs Partner for the Firm. “This program was a terrific discussion about the trailblazing lives of Justices Ginsburg and O’Connor, as well as Judge Williams, and we are very proud to support it.”

Judge Williams' dialogue with Ms. Hirshman, a lawyer who has taken three cases before the Supreme Court, touched on how the judges fought for recognition in the male-dominated legal world and how their personal backgrounds shaped them. Judge Williams informed her questions with first-hand knowledge of both women, as well as personal anecdotes. The result was a powerful, fascinating one-hour talk that honored and humanized the justices, while highlighting their importance in transforming the Constitution and making America a more equitable place.

"[Humanizing the justices] was my goal," said Judge Williams. "Everybody knows their career stories; the career story is only a jumping-off point for the personal story to me. People forget that they're human beings. I think it's really important for people to see how it Justice O’Connor and Justice Ginsburg became who they are, because it colors how they acted as judges and justices." 

With Justice Ginsburg so much in the spotlight in recent years, Judge Williams was appreciative that the book and conversation highlighted Justice O'Connor's importance as well. 

"When I would watch her ... and she would speak to a large audience of law students or a women's group, people were clamoring around her. She was a rock star. It's just that she wasn't part of the social media generation. She was really fierce."

Subsequent generations of women can learn from both justices, said Judge Williams.

"They had a lot of doors slammed in their faces and yet they found a way to stand up and open the doors. If one door didn’t work, they'd find another door. They'd bang down that door if they could, but then they'd learn from the lesson and move to another door. … That’s something I admired in both of them. 

"Women are still facing lots of challenges today, but the lessons that they gave on believing in yourself, and being strong, and not giving up, and being confident, and being excellent at what you do … not seeing yourself through the eyes of people who are sexist. … those lessons resonate."

The way the ideologically different justices collaborated is also a timely message. 

"People are going to have differences. We live in a country that's divided right now, but you have to try to find a way to bridge the divide. You have to be open, you have to listen, you have to be willing to make compromises if you can do it in a principled way. … Both of them used their skills to try to find a way to try to find a path."

The timeliness of this sentiment was shared by Mr. Gray when he introduced the conversation.

"I could not imagine a better opportunity at this particular time to introduce you all to these fabulous people to talk about two of our nation's heroes in Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg," he began. "[T]hese two extraordinary women from extraordinarily different backgrounds really advanced the interest of all of our citizens in this country and were just spectacular in their own rights, and the timing could not be more important."

Jones Day is a longtime supporter of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center. 

A video of the lecture is available on Vimeo: 



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