I was incredibly saddened to receive the alert on my phone Friday night announcing that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away.
Growing up as the son of an attorney and the grandson of a judge, it was instilled in me from an early age to respect both the Constitution, and those who work tirelessly to defend it.
But as much as reading that news made me miss my Dad – with whom I certainly would have talked at length were he still around – my mind turned instead toward another family member.
My Dad’s sister.
Standing all of maybe 4’9, Aunt Ellen was a brazen, whip-smart lady with a razor-sharp intellect and a wit to match.
By all accounts a classic overachiever, she was valedictorian of her high school class in tiny Grafton, West Virginia; a Summa Cum Laude graduate from West Virginia University; and since apples tend not to fall terribly far from their respective trees, also a top graduate of the WVU College of Law in 1967.
And while a story like that may seem more commonplace today – the ratio of female law students had nearly hit 1:1 as far back as 2012 – it was still practically unheard of when Aunt Ellen graduated.
In true trailblazer fashion, Aunt Ellen didn’t stop there. After graduation, she went on to serve for a short period as counsel to then-WV Governor Hulett Smith before becoming just the second female law clerk in the history of the West Virginia State Supreme Court.
That was big enough news in West Virginia at the time that it warranted equal billing with the Apollo 7 astronauts.
And perhaps driving home my point, it was accompanied by a headline that would be just a tad insensitive by today’s standards.
Source: Dominion Post, Newspapers.com
Aunt Ellen of course, didn’t quit there. She would also go on to become one of the first female bankruptcy attorneys in the state – arguably one of the best overall. And in the early 1990’s, after rescuing a small elder care facility from the throes of Chapter 7 bankruptcy, would serve the remainder of her career as their chief legal counsel.
Although she passed away unexpectedly in 1997 at the far-too-young age of 55, she left an indelible mark on many people.
For starters, I couldn’t have finished college without her, as she was able to step in and cover the balance of my last semester’s tuition while my Dad was establishing a solo law practice.
But that generosity – be it of time, effort, finance, or knowledge – was the hallmark of her character I most fondly remember.
It continues to this day, too, as she has not just one, but two separate scholarships named after her – one awarded to a female law student at WVU, and one awarded to several nurses specializing in rehabilitation – both dedicated to West Virginia natives in need of financial aid.
And re-reading all the recipients these awards have helped over the years, it just makes me tremendously proud to have known her.
“Take Their Feet Off Our Necks”
What really set me off on this topic today, however, was a longer article on my Aunt Ellen in the Morgantown, WV paper that ran about a week after the previous one.
In particular, it was a paragraph that read, “She did not name any special advantages of being a woman lawyer. ‘I like working with men, and they’ve been extremely accommodating. I don’t think they make any special favors for women.’”
Source: Dominion Post, Newspapers.com
Knowing her as I did, the phrase “I don’t think they make any special favors for women” was not meant as a compliment.
It was cordial, polite, and professional, of course… there had to be, as she’s talking about her boss.
But there’s a subtext there that might not be obvious.
Frankly, I wouldn’t have ever been aware of it if I hadn’t overheard her tell my Dad once that she had to “out-hustle, outsmart, and outwork every man in this State for every opportunity I was ever afforded.”
It wasn’t out of character – my Aunt was as direct as could be – but it was jarring in how honest and exasperated it was.
Years later, while watching the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary RBG I got an incredibly similar feeling from its signature quote…
“I ask no favor for my sex.
All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”
So, despite the fact that they never knew each other, Justice Ginsburg and my Aunt Ellen have been linked in my mind ever since.
And I’m incredibly sad they’re both gone.
Market Effects of the Upcoming Battle
Although some publications attributed Monday’s market selloff to a resurgence of COVID in Europe, I think personally that the culprit lies primarily in the US.
Moreover, former Vice President Biden leads in most national and swing state polls, and several pundits have viewed a Biden win as potentially negative for stocks in the short term.
But if there’s one thing that election year markets have taught us, it’s that races tighten as they get closer to election day. And that increase in uncertainty often leads to an increase in volatility.
Well sure enough, the spread between the spot value of the VIX and its front-month futures contract has started to increase…which means that investors think markets will be more volatile next month than right now.
All the best,