Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Presides Over Moot Court in Honor of Belva Lockwood

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court of the United States. (Maria Bryk/Newseum)

The moot court revisited the 1872 case of Bradwell v. Illinois, when Myra Bradwell fought to be admitted to the Illinois bar.

On Oct. 18, local teachers, school and district leaders, and lawyers gathered at the Newseum to celebrate the life of Belva Lockwood, the first woman admitted to the Supreme Court bar. Newseum President and CEO Jeffrey Herbst welcomed the audience before introducing speakers Sara Nash, Dr. Jill Norgren and Beverly Wolov, experts on the life and legal career of Lockwood. The moot court was then introduced by O’Melveny & Myers LLP Partner Mary Patrice Brown.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court of the United States, Judge Nina Pillard of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia represented those who sat on the judicial panel for the 1872 case Bradwell v. Illinois, when Myra Bradwell sued to gain admission to the Illinois bar. Judge Patricia Millet of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit argued on behalf of Bradwell, and Meaghan VerGow of O’Melveny & Myers LLP argued on behalf of the State of Illinois.

The program allowed audience members to experience the drama as a First Amendment right — freedom of petition — was invoked, and to hear the arguments used in 1872 for and against a new role for women. While the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted in 1868, and Illinois had actually passed a statue earlier in 1872 that allowed women the right to pursue any profession of their choosing, Bradwell did not win her case on the basis that women were unfit “for many of the occupations of civil life.” However, in Tuesday’s moot court, Justice Ginsburg delivered the ruling that a woman cannot be prevented from practicing a profession for which she is fit. “It would have been sound judgment then and sound judgment now,” said Justice Ginsburg.

Eight years after the Bradwell v. Illinois ruling, Belva Lockwood argued her first case in the United States Supreme Court.

You can find resources on both Bradwell and Lockwood on NewseumED.org in the EDCollection “Women, Their Rights and Nothing Less”, which includes hundreds of resources for teachers on the women’s suffrage movement and the First Amendment.

For this event, the Newseum partnered with the law firm O’Melveny & Myers and The Green Bag, which publishes legal scholarship.


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