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In memoir 'Dinners With Ruth', NPR's Totenberg reflects on nearly 50 years of friendship with Justice Ginsburg

For nearly 50 years, Nina Totenberg has been reporting on the nation’s high court and legal arguments for NPR. But before that, as a print reporter, she began a relationship with a source that came to mean a great deal personally.

Totenberg and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg became close friends. Their friendship and others are chronicled in the new book 'Dinners With Ruth: A Memoir on the Power of Friendships.'

That first conversation took place in 1971, when Ginsburg was a Rutgers law professor, who had authored the ACLU brief arguing that women were entitled to the same equal protection guarantees as men under the 14th Amendment.

“I just didn’t understand the brief, so I called her and essentially got a one hour conversation/lecture,” she said. “I began calling her regularly, the way I do when I find somebody who’s really enriched by coverage of the court, or of the law.”

The two later met face to face at a conference, decided they were bored, and went shopping together.

“I really don’t remember where we shopped, or if we bought anything, but I do remember the cab ride, and our conversation that day,” Totenberg said. “(Ginsburg) wanted to be a federal trial judge, and was not getting anywhere. She felt much as I did at the time – that her nose was up against a windowpane, that we were on the outside looking in.”

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The two women and their spouses became closer friends when Ginsburg was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 1980.

Totenberg’s book also devotes time to an earlier time at NPR, when she, Cokie Roberts, and Linda Wertheimer began their time as colleagues. She also knew Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer before their time on the country’s high court.

'Dinners With Ruth' also tracks Justice Ginsburg’s ascension to the Supreme Court. But the book also spends time away from careers, including many meals, and attending the opera together.

The book also tracks Ginsburg’s declining health over a number of years, something often worked through. She died in September 2020.

“(That year) she probably had dinner at house 23 or 24 times, partly because of our friendship, partly because (my husband) is such a wonderful cook, and partly because she trusted us so much. It was the one place she could go.” Totenberg said. “I think there is enormous power in friendships.”

You can get a copy of "Dinners with Ruth" by Nina Totenberg when you donate to Radio IQ. Just go to RADIO IQ.org, and click on the 'Donate' button. Thanks to Roanoke bookseller Book No Further for partnering with us to obtain the book.

Jeff Bossert comes to Radio IQ with over 20 years of reporting and hosting experience, primarily with NPR member stations, including WKNO in Memphis, and most recently, Illinois Public Media/WILL in Urbana, Illinois. A big advocate for professional development, Jeff served on the Illinois News Broadcasters Association Board of Directors.
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