National Portrait Gallery to host Oct. 2 debut of stamp for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
By Charles Snee
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose storied legal career and 27 years on the United States’ highest court cemented her stature as a feminist icon, will be honored on a commemorative forever stamp to be issued Oct. 2 in Washington, D.C.
The nondenominated (66¢) commemorative forever stamp for the 107th Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States will be issued on Monday, Oct. 2, at 6 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time at the National Portrait Gallery, Eighth and G streets NW, in the nation’s capital.
The U.S. Postal Service encourages those planning to attend the ceremony to register online. Each attendee may invite up to four additional guests, the USPS said.
Tom Fitzgerald, host of the Fox 5 News weekly TV program “On The Hill,” will serve as master of ceremonies.
Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, will provide welcoming remarks.
Dedicating the stamp will be Roman Martinez IV, chairman of the U.S. Postal Service’s board of governors.
Also addressing the ceremony audience will be Lori Dym, manager of procurement and property for the USPS; Nina Totenberg, legal affairs correspondent for NPR; Elizabeth Glazer, a former clerk for Ginsburg during her time as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; and Ginsburg’s granddaughter, Clara Spera.
Totenberg, who joined NPR in 1975, had a close friendship with Ginsburg that spanned almost 50 years. Totenberg’s memoir of her close ties with Ginsburg, Dinners With Ruth, was published in September 2022.
A brief review on goodreads.com describes Totenberg’s book as “an extraordinary account of two women who paved the way for future generations by tearing down professional and legal barriers. It is also an intimate memoir of the power of friendships as women began to pry open career doors and transform the workplace.”
In a phone conversation with Linn’s Stamp News, Totenberg reflected on people’s diminished use of the mail, but was excited about the upcoming stamp celebrating her friend.
“I don’t know how many were printed, but I can’t imagine they won’t sell out and [the Postal Service] will have to print more,” she said.
Linn’s asked Totenberg about Justice Ginsburg’s close friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia (1936-2016). She couldn’t recall if that would be part of her remarks at the ceremony, which she prepared in early September.
“The order of speakers matters,” Totenberg said. “You don’t want to step on others’ comments, and you don’t want them stepping on yours.”
In a draft of her prepared remarks, which Totenberg shared with Linn’s, she describes Ginsburg’s legal advocacy for women’s rights as “characteristically cautious, precise, and single-mindedly aimed at one goal: winning.”
In her remarks, Totenberg aptly describes Ginsburg as “an unlikely pioneer, a diminutive and shy woman whose soft voice belied a spine of steel.”
Renowned portrait artist Michael J. Deas of New Orleans, using a photograph by Philip Bermingham, created the painting of Ginsburg (1933-2020) that appears on the stamp.
A bespectacled Ginsburg is shown staring forward with the barest hint of a smile, her right eyebrow ever so slightly raised. She is wearing her black judicial robe, and her neck is wreathed with a collar similar in style to her dissent collar, which she wore when she put forth her cogent, focused opinions that went against the high court’s majority.
During her later years on Supreme Court, Ginsburg achieved celebrity status, courtesy of a well-known rap artist.
In an obituary published in The New York Times on the day of Ginsburg’s death, Sept. 18, 2020, Linda Greenhouse wrote:
Justice Ginsburg’s pointed and powerful dissenting opinions … attracted growing attention as the court turned further to the right. A law student, Shana Knizhnik, anointed her the Notorious R.B.G., a play on the name of the Notorious B.I.G., a famous rapper who was Brooklyn-born, like the justice. Soon the name, and Justice Ginsburg’s image — her expression serene yet severe, a frilly lace collar adorning her black judicial robe, her eyes framed by oversize glasses and a gold crown perched at a rakish angle on her head — became an internet sensation.
… “You Can’t Spell Truth Without Ruth” appeared on bumper stickers and T-shirts. A biography, “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” by Irin Carmon and Ms. Knizhnik, reached the best-seller list the day after its publication in 2015, and the next year Simon & Schuster brought out a Ginsburg biography for children with the title “I Dissent.” A documentary film of her life was a surprise box office hit in the summer of 2018, and a Hollywood biopic centered on her first sex discrimination court case [On the Basis of Sex] opened on Christmas Day that year.
In a Sept. 6 opinion article in the Washington Post, J. Harvie Wilkinson III, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, expressed admiration for Ginsburg (and the forthcoming stamp) despite having significant differences with her on hot-button issues of the day.
“I hope that, in the future, it will not take mortality and a postage stamp to remind us that simply having different views and leading a different life make no one less of an American than any other,” Wilkinson wrote.
“Perhaps that’s how Justice Ginsburg would have wished it. Perhaps she would see her Forever stamp as a feminist response to Abraham Lincoln’s penny — a small but lasting symbol of unity in a fractured time,” Wilkinson concluded.
Deas’ paintings have appeared on 25 previous U.S. commemorative stamps. Some of Deas’ subjects include Marilyn Monroe (1995 32¢, Scott 2967), Humphrey Bogart (1997 32¢, 3152), George H.W. Bush (2019 forever [55¢], 5393), Bette Davis (2008 42¢, 4350), James Dean (1996 32¢, 3082), Cary Grant (2002 37¢, 3692), Audrey Hepburn (2003 37¢, 3786), Edgar Allan Poe (2009 42¢, 4377), Katherine Ann Porter (2006 39¢, 4030), Ronald Reagan (2005 37¢, 3897; 2006 39¢, 4078), Stephen Vincent Benet (1998 32¢, 3221), Thornton Wilder (1997 32¢, 3134), Thomas Wolfe (2000 33¢, 3444), Meriwether Lewis (2004 37¢, 3854 and 3855) and William Clark (2004 37¢, 3854 and 3856), and Tennessee Williams (1995 32¢, 3002).
Banknote Corporation of America of Browns Summit, N.C., printed 32 million Ruth Bader Ginsburg stamps that were finished into 1.6 million panes of 20 for sale at post offices and other authorized philatelic outlets across the country.
Seasoned Postal Service art director Ethel Kessler of Bethesda, Md., designed the stamp.
“For me, this was the stamp project of a lifetime,” Kessler told Linn’s Stamp News. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg was so highly regarded, and it was a tremendous honor and privilege for me to be assigned the art director role for this [stamp].”
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