Chief Justice Roberts headlines Oct. 2 first-day ceremony for Ruth Bader Ginsburg stamp
By Allen Abel
Chief Justice John Roberts of the Supreme Court of the United States welcomed his former colleague Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020) to what he called “the pantheon of philatelically honored justices” during an evocative and operatic ceremony that attracted more than 600 devotees of the trailblazing jurist and feminist to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., on the evening of Oct. 2 for the unveiling of a U.S. forever commemorative stamp in honor of Ginsburg.
Ginsburg is the 14th member of the Supreme Court to appear on a U.S. postage stamp.
“The Postal Service knows an icon when it sees one,” Roberts said, equating the unmistakable visage and trademark lace collar of Ginsburg on the new stamp to the image of Chief Justice Charles Evan Hughes that graces a 4¢ commemorative stamp (Scott 1195) issued in 1962.
Hughes was known as “the bearded iceberg,” and Ginsburg was dubbed “the Notorious R.B.G.,” a humorous reference to the rapper Notorious B.I.G. (1972-97).
But Harvard Law School lecturer Clara Spera, Ginsburg’s granddaughter, grounded Ginsburg in a more populist vein, listing some of her many academic and judicial honors but noting that “she would say that this one is particularly special because I think it is the first she shares with Yogi Berra.”
(A forever commemorative stamp honoring Berra [Scott 5608] was issued in 2021.)
Spera revealed that “stamps played a role” in her grandmother’s life right up to her death in 2020 at age 87, detailing how Ginsburg borrowed a stamp album from her brother and used it to educate her own children by tracing the colonial history of Africa and the once-independent component republics of the Soviet Union.
Spera said that Ginsburg continued her “penchant for sending handwritten snail mail” until her final years.
“Her legacy will forever be stamped in the story of her nation,” she said.
The glass-domed Kogod Courtyard that sits between the Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Gallery of American Art was filled almost to capacity for the event, which featured remarks from NPR journalist Nina Totenberg in praise of Ginsburg’s “emotional peripheral vision,” a performance of the O du, mein holder Abendstern aria from Richard Wagner’s 1845 opera Tannhäuser by the Washington National Opera (Ginsburg was a passionate opera buff), and the cutting and consumption of sheet cakes iced with an image of the new commemorative stamp.
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