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Ruth Bader Ginsburg an icon, inspiration to Florida female judges

Local judges shared stories of how the Supreme Court justice impacted their lives and careers.

The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg triggered an outpouring of tributes and praise for a woman who spent her lifetime advocating for equal rights.

Ginsburg was an inspiration to a generation of women, including judges in Tampa Bay and Florida.

They touted her legacy and the impact she had on all women, not just those in the legal field.

“I think that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the most important woman for women in probably the history of our country,” said Tampa attorney Lyann Goudie, who is a judge-elect of the Florida 13th Circuit Court in Hillsborough County. “I think there isn’t a woman today, regardless of whether she’s aware of it or not, that doesn’t owe a tremendous amount of gratitude toward Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”

Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente became a judge in September 1993 right after Ginsburg was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Pariente met her for the first time shortly after.

Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente asks questions of attorneys during a hearing. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times (2015)]
Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente asks questions of attorneys during a hearing. [SCOTT KEELER | Times (2015)]

“To have her as the second woman on the Supreme Court was really very hopeful about women being able to take an equal place in society,” said Pariente, who shared similar experiences with Ginsburg. Both women interviewed with top law firms after graduating law school near the tops of their classes. And while both scored interviews, neither were offered jobs.

“Both her and Sandra Day O’Connor relayed the exact same stories,” Pariente said. “It was a very typical story in the ’60s and ’70s. Large firms were just not interested in hiring women and were very honest and open about it, frankly.”

Pariente admired Ginsburg’s passion for the people she represented as a lawyer and her preparedness as a judge.

“In the end, I think what really defines her is her basic goodness and her love of humanity and people,” Pariente said. “As much as she became an icon, she was so very down to earth.”

Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente (right) greets US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (left) at the National Association of Women Judges conference in Washington D.C. in May 2016.
Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente (right) greets US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (left) at the National Association of Women Judges conference in Washington D.C. in May 2016. [ Courtesy of Barbara Pariente ]

Pariente also connected with Ginsburg after watching the justice battle cancer. Pariente was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003 while serving on the Florida Supreme Court. She looked to Ginsburg and O’Connor, who also had breast cancer, for inspiration and strength. The story goes that O’Connor gave Ginsburg the advice to schedule her chemotherapy for Friday so she had the weekend to recover and be back on the bench by Monday.

“When I was battling breast cancer and never missed a day of oral argument, their courage to do that always inspired me,” Pariente said.

Goudie, who worked as an attorney in Tampa for 30 years, applauded the surgical precision with which Ginsburg systematically took on laws that dictated what women could and could not do. The cases Ginsburg argued as an attorney, Goudie said, ratified from a legal perspective the women’s movement that was going on in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

That’s why Goudie decided to watch the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary last year with her granddaughter, Ava, who was 13 at the time.

“I told her, look at what she did so that you could be whatever you want to be and I could be whatever I want to be,” Goudie said.

She’d pause the movie at times to discuss different topics with Ava, including a list of laws that were in place at the time limiting women’s rights. “Her eyes were like saucers,” Goudie said, when Ava realized how different things were at the time.

Judge-elect Lyann Goudie poses for a picture with her granddaughter Ava. The two watched a documentary on Ruth Bader Ginsburg together and discussed her impact on women's rights.
Judge-elect Lyann Goudie poses for a picture with her granddaughter Ava. The two watched a documentary on Ruth Bader Ginsburg together and discussed her impact on women's rights. [ Courtesy of Lyann Goudie ]

Goudie wanted to introduce Ava to Ginsburg and other female role models who campaigned for women’s rights and freedoms, instead of pop culture figures like the Kardashians that she said are so often placed before girls for admiration.

“This younger generation, the images they’re given of role models and people they’re supposed to look up to are almost sacrilegious,” Goudie said. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a superhero. She’s a rockstar. She is deservedly an iconic individual who really, when we talk about your life, made an impact on the world.”

Now, Ava wears Ruth Bader Ginsburg socks and has a Notorious RBG sticker up in her room.

Goudie, too, has taken some of Ginsburg’s teachings to heart, or at least tried to. The criminal defense attorney is a passionate force in the courtroom.

Goudie tried being mild-mannered in the courtroom, like a female prosecutor she admired. But a judge told her that wasn’t her style. Thus came the direct, aggressive demeanor that has become her signature.

Goudie shared a story about how Ginsburg’s mother taught her daughter that anger was a meaningless emotion that causes people to waste time. For Goudie, it’s probably the emotion she feels most comfortable sharing outside of her close friends and family.

“I’ve got to try to channel some of her restraint,” Goudie said of Ginsburg. “She was able to get her point across powerfully and at the same time not resorting to insulting, name calling, that kind of behavior.”

Ginsburg hadn’t taught at Rutgers Law School for years by the time Myriam Irizarry began as a student. But the Supreme Court justice’s legacy hung heavy over the university, and inspired a young Irizarry.

Growing up economically disadvantaged in Puerto Rico as one of seven, Irizarry said Ginsburg’s emphasis on women and minorities in the law meant a lot to her. Irizarry was the first in her family to go to college thanks to scholarships and tuition programs. Without someone like Ginsburg, Irizarry said, her already difficult journey would have been even harder.

“I feel like I lost a sister in her,” the Pinellas County judge said. “She has been my inspiration, she’s all about perseverance, which is what my life has been.”

Judge Myriam Irizarry met Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the early 2000s at a swearing-in at the Supreme Court
Judge Myriam Irizarry met Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the early 2000s at a swearing-in at the Supreme Court [ Courtesy of Myriam Irizarry ]

In the early 2000s, Irizarry and others with the Clearwater Bar Association went on a trip to the Supreme Court for a special swearing in. After, she got to meet the justices, including Ginsburg, who congratulated her.

Irizarry hopes Ginsburg’s push to make the bench look more like the communities they represent, including getting more women in the profession, will continue.

“She started that and I sure hope that that legacy will continue, and I think it will,” she said.

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