Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Ginsburg-Sweden Connection

In 1961, Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined a comparative project on civil procedural based at Columbia Law School. She took on the Swedish portion of the project, and studied the implementation of the Swedish procedural law, Rättegångsbalken, which became effective in 1948.

Professor Ginsburg spent a year learning Swedish (!) and then traveled to Sweden in 1962, where she met with her collaborator Anders Bruzelius, a judge from Lund, a bustling university town in southern Sweden.

The project resulted in a book, Civil Procedure in Sweden, and a translation of the Swedish procedural code into English. For this work both Ginsburg and Bruzelius received an honorary degree from the Law Faculty at Lund University in 1969. 

In 2019, Justice Ginsburg returned to Sweden (albeit Stockholm) and was awarded a Jubilee Doctorate from Lund University, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of her original honorary doctorate.

On that occasion, Justice Ginsburg spoke about the influence that her Swedish experience had on her career.  Among other things, she recounted, she had participated in a Swedish trial in which the judge was not only a woman but also eight months pregnant --unthinkable in the US at the time. She also saw affordable, state-subsidized childcare, and more egalitarian parenting.  “My thought processes were stimulated in Sweden," she said.  "I saw what was wrong and what needed to change in the USA."

Ginsburg's special insight was that a viable route to making those changes in the U.S. was through social change litigation, modeled on the NAACP LDF's campaign for racial justice.  She certainly did not learn that in Sweden, where impact litigation was virtually unknown. Using litigation to move the equality needle was Ginsburg's unique American spin.

When news of Justice Ginsburg's death was announced, Karin Olofsdotter, the Swedish Ambassador to the U.S., tweeted, "A Great Friend of Sweden has passed away." By the same token, Americans owe a debt to Sweden for inspiring the young professor.  Imagine where we'd be if Justice Ginsburg had limited the application of her talents to civil procedure!



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