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Hero For Life

Sep 29, 2020

AS THE HEARSE carrying Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's flag-draped casket approached the Supreme Court Building, Lisa Beattie Frelinghuysen '88, JD '94 and Amanda L. Tyler '95 stood side by side in silence.

They shared in common a past as student-athletes at Stanford, and a love for Ginsburg, their mentor and friend. Both were clerks under Ginsburg in the Supreme Court, serving under a giant for equality and one of the most influential women in American history. 

"She was a hero of mine before I clerked, while I was clerking, and after I clerked," Frelinghuysen said. "She always wore those superhero capes in my mind."

More than 100 of Ginsburg's former clerks lined the Supreme Court steps. In front were a select 10, recognized as honorary pallbearers. Frelinghuysen and Tyler were among them.

"One of the greatest honors of my life," Tyler said. 

As the rest of the clerks remained in place, the 10 followed the casket up the steps and into the portico, where it rested between marble columns on the first of three days of public mourning. Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18 at age 87 from complications of pancreatic cancer, became the first woman in history to lie in state in the nation's capital.


Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Amanda Tyler (left photo) and Lisa Beattie Frelinghuysen.

FOR MUCH OF the next 48 hours, Frelinghuysen, Tyler and other clerks took turns standing vigil. 

Scores of admirers lined the street to pay their respects. As the night fell, Frelinghuysen felt herself filling with disparate feelings, of pain and gratitude. The pain from the loss of a close friend and national treasure. The gratitude for the life that Ginsburg helped pave. A flag, at half-mast, rippled in the breeze. 

"I will never forget that quiet vigil," Frelinghuysen said. "It's her turn to rest and our turn to carry the torch." 

Frelinghuysen played lacrosse for the Cardinal after arriving as a three-sport standout in volleyball, squash, and lacrosse at The Brearley School, a small all-girls institution on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

The Stanford lacrosse program was in its infancy in the late 1980s and sports were just one of many activities for Frelinghuysen. She advocated for women and directed the Stanford Homeless Project, which explored causes and possible solutions to Palo Alto's growing homeless population.  

An English major, Frelinghuysen was hired by the ACLU's national office in New York to write primarily on women's rights and what is now referred to as 'reproductive justice.' She returned to attend Stanford Law School and developed a passion for constitutional law, an interest influenced by professor Gerald Gunther, a scholar in the subject, and served as President and Editor in Chief of the Stanford Law Review

After a clerkship at the D.C. Court of Appeals, Frelinghuysen landed a job with Ginsburg. Fueled by her own stories of discrimination, Ginsburg already was a legend in gender equity as an attorney, lobbyist, and appellate judge before being appointed to the Supreme Court by Bill Clinton in 1993. 

The ability to play sports in the 1980s and early 1990s was alone proof of Ginsburg's trailblazing. She founded the ACLU's Women's Right Project and lobbied heavily for the passage of Title IX, which ordered equal opportunities for women in education, and gave legitimacy and opportunity to female athletes.   

Frelinghuysen was well aware of Ginsburg's already well-established reputation for "pathmarking," a term Ginsburg may have coined that was synonymous with groundbreaking. As Ginsburg's law clerk, Frelinghuysen drafted the opinion on the landmark 1996 gender equity case, United States vs. Virginia. The victory forced the taxpayer-financed Virginia Military Institute to open its doors to women and established that any future attempt at gender exclusion anywhere would require an "exceedingly persuasive justification" to even be considered.

Frelinghuysen, a Principal at BanyanGlobal in New York City and mother of four, returned with Ginsburg to VMI 20 years later. They were greeted and thanked by women cadets, who were thriving.


Stanford lacrosse player Lisa Beattie with her grandmother, Ruth McCarthy, around 1988.

TYLER'S STANFORD SOCCER career was especially notable for the two years she spent as a teammate of Julie Foudy, Stanford's first superstar and the soul of the emerging of the U.S. national team. Stanford, still younger than a decade as a varsity program, also was beginning to flex its muscles. 

The Cardinal not only boasted Foudy, but scoring machine Sarah Rafanelli, and other big-time players. In 1991, the Cardinal advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time in school history, and reached its first semifinal in 1993. 

Tyler was a midfielder out of Sunnyvale then and now is UC-Berkeley's Shannon Cecil Turner Professor of Law. She's feels rejuvenated now that she's returned to the game as the faculty fellow to the Cal women's soccer team. Meanwhile, she still follows Stanford, the NCAA champion two of the past three seasons, and concedes she probably wouldn't even make the team today.  

"We saw the endless potential," Tyler said. "We have watched with so much pride. I am ferociously proud to be an alumnae, my classmates and I remain extremely close. The program has brought me great joy, to watch it become all it could be." 

After Harvard Law School, Tyler was "incredibly nervous," as she approached her interview with Ginsburg. "I really wanted the job. I've never wanted a job more."

Tyler immediately was put at ease by Ginsburg. It didn't take long for Tyler to understand that people referred to Ginsburg as simply The Justice, with a capital 'J.'

"I would never ever call her 'R-U-T-H,'" Tyler said. 

The demands were great. Ginsburg expected a lot, and Tyler was expected to deliver.

"She would mark up drafts like you cannot imagine," Tyler said. "Words have to be doing something useful, never use four when three will do. At the very end of what was often an extremely drawn out process, you would aspire to when she would hand back a draft, and there would be two words in the corner: 'Just right.'"

Ginsburg always was respectful and patient and valued her clerks' thoughts and views.

"She pushed you in all possible ways," Tyler said, but never in a condescending manner. Ginsburg always remained alongside and never left her clerks behind. Perhaps that's why those bonds continued for a lifetime.


Stanford soccer player Amanda Tyler in 1992.

THE FIGHT FOR equality isn't continuous. There are steps forward and steps back, but regardless, Ginsburg's impact will continue to be felt for generations, in things we now take for granted, or in memories of late nights spent dwarfed by stacks of legal documents.   

"Everybody was affected by the things she did, they just don't realize it," Tyler said. "That's true in every aspect of my life. She blew through closed doors and made it easier for everyone who came after. She made it her life's work to ensure that the Constitution leaves no one behind."

Along the architrave of the massive marble columns of the Supreme Court Building, are chiseled the words "Equal Justice Under Law." Perhaps no justice in history brought those words to life better than The Justice herself.

As the vigil continued and the flag billowed in the soft wind, a sense of reverence hovered in the very air -- the kind reserved only for heroes.


Lisa Beattie Frelinghuysen (left) and Amanda Tyler (middle of the photo) follow guards down the Supreme Court steps among Ginsburg's former law clerks. 

Lead photo: Lisa Beattie Frelinghuysen (right) stands vigil by the casket of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.