Amid the various tributes remembering RBG as a feminist icon and civil rights champion was a very personal one from veteran journalist Mark Shavin, who remembered the time she responded to his 5-year-old's letter.
It was a true testament to the unmatched legacy she left behind that the days following Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death were marked with the telling and retelling of the countless ways in which she left her mark on history. Amid the various tributes remembering her as a feminist icon and civil rights champion was a very personal one from veteran journalist Mark Shavin, who remembered the time RBG responded to his 5-year-old's letter. Recounting the memorable encounter with the icon in a moving Facebook post, Shavin explained how the late Justice had left a lasting impression on his young daughter.
"Many years ago, my 5-year-old daughter penned a letter to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Naomi wanted to know if the justice had ever made a mistake. Ginsburg's warm reply was heartfelt and deeply touching, and when she achieved rock star status as the 'Notorious RBG,' I often thought about that letter and all that followed," Shavin wrote in an article for The Washington Post. The father-of-three explained that his daughter, who always had a slew of profound questions that needed answers, was inspired to write to Justice Ginsburg following a query that popped into her head during a car ride.
"What's jail like?" Naomi asked her dad. "I explained in simple terms how people wound up behind bars and the role of judges in helping juries determine guilt or innocence. I told her that one of the country's most important judges was Jewish and that she bore the same name as her beloved Grandmother Ruth. Naomi and Ruth are connected in the Old Testament, and the Bible was on Naomi's mind as she sat down to write her letter," Shavin wrote. Naomi included two drawings in her carefully crafted letter to the Justice: one featured a woman looking up at Ginsburg and the other depicted two women standing before King Solomon, seeking his counsel.
"Dear Justice Ginsburg, My grandmother has the name Ruth, too. I call her Ruru. You are like King Solomon. You both decide stuff. He was the smartest king. One woman stole another woman's baby. King Solomon knew whose baby it was. Are you in charge of all the people in the United States of America? Have you ever made a mistake? Love, 5-year-old Naomi," read the letter. On May 8, 1997, Justice Ginsburg penned a tender reply to the young girl.
"Dear Naomi, Thank you for your wonderful letter. Thinking about you, your words, and your drawing, I have been smiling all day. I have two grandchildren. My grandson is named Paul, and my granddaughter is Clara. Paul is 10 and Clara is 6. They call me 'Bubbie.' In answer to your questions, I am not in charge of all the people in the United States, but I work hard to do my judging job well. And yes, I have made many mistakes, but I try to learn from them so that I will not make the same mistake twice," the letter read. The Justice also thoughtfully included a cartoon depiction of the court with the words "And we order for Naomi Shavin a very bright day" written across it.
"Over the next few years, Naomi got to meet Ginsburg when she paid a visit to the Georgia State University College of Law and again when she spoke at a lecture series hosted by our local synagogue. It was at that second meeting that Ginsburg invited our family to visit her in her chambers if we were ever in Washington. We made a point of visiting Washington in June 2003," Shavin revealed. "When we were ushered into Ginsburg’s chambers, it was like entering a library, quiet and still. The justice was diminutive but towering in her reputation. I grasped for words to express our gratitude. She remembered Naomi as the little girl who wrote letters. She told us how our fellow Georgian, Jimmy Carter, first elevated her to the federal bench before President Bill Clinton tapped her for the Supreme Court."
"She spoke to Naomi and Adam and Sarah in a tender, solicitous voice. She told them that schoolchildren from all over visited her and often brought her pins. She had them displayed on a ribbon of cloth and generously invited each of the children to take one," he recalled. Shavin explained that Naomi—who was 12 years old at the time of the meeting—could appreciate the surreal majesty of the moment and that years later, as a 29-year-old Washington-based journalist at Axios, she "recalled Ginsburg's 'piercing blue eyes,' her kindness in trying to relate to a little girl from Georgia, and the example this champion of equal rights set for girls everywhere, but particularly 'young Jewish girls.'"
"In what seems like a lifetime ago, a letter from the Supreme Court of the United States arrived in our mailbox. It connected us to one of the most powerful women in the world. And it taught a little girl from Georgia that her voice mattered, that she mattered and that she might one day be able to achieve great things because her pen pal blazed a trail for her. That letter was then, and is now, a blessing," Shavin concluded.