U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered introductory remarks at the 2015 PBI Annual Conference Reception. See her remarks below.
Icy weather, grim headlines, a burdensome calendar at the Court, in short, a dispiriting time for me and for many gathered here. Even so, we are meeting on an auspicious day, March 5, the day in 1977 when President Jimmy Carter, prompted by Walter Cronkite, delivered his first Dial-A-President radio show. March 5 was also the day in 1963 when the Patent and Trademark Office issued a patent for a hugely popular invention, the Hula Hoop. March 5 is the birthdate of Rex Harrison, Italian painter Giovanni Tiepolo, Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. It is 5 days before Justice Scalia’s birthday, and 10 days before mine.
Tonight’s event itself is cause for celebration. All of you are ardent Institute supporters. And all of you might simply do the jobs for which you are paid. Yet you have chosen to be Pro Bono champions, devoting talent, time, and money to people and communities needing quality legal services to make their lives hopeful. I applaud your efforts, and above all, those of the Institute’s initiator, President and CEO, the indomitable Esther Lardent. I miss Esther’s presence this evening, and hope she will be with us next year, health challenges in check, operating full steam.
The Institute’s Corporate Pro Bono Project, established in partnership with the Association of Corporate Counsel, has flourished since its formal launching over a decade ago. It has made great strides in enlisting in-house legal departments of corporations as major players in pro bono service. No efforts in that regard have been more sustained than those of Aetna’s legal department, begun some 35 years ago. For those pathmarking efforts, we honor tonight, as recipient of the Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award, the legal department of Aetna, and the corporation’s General Counsel, Bill Casazza. Bill formerly chaired Aetna’s Pro Bono initiatives. There have been big changes at Aetna since the 1980s, changes in leadership as well as in business activity. But under Bill’s stewardship, there has been one uninterrupted constant: the maintenance and growth of the legal department’s pro bono endeavors.
Esther told me of Aetna’s services to the most vulnerable – – the elderly, the homeless, and abused or neglected children. Aetna’s lawyers were also instrumental in gaining reparations for Holocaust survivors. Aetna encourages its legal staff to take on projects of personal meaning to them, for example, aiding veterans’ organizations, art collaboratives, particular schools and non-profit organizations. My congratulations to General Counsel Casazza and the lawyers and administrators of Aetna’s legal department. May there be encores galore of their pro bono activities in the years to come.
And may all who answer the Pro Bono Institute’s call continue to respond to needs outside themselves, to help repair tears in their communities, and to promote in ways best suited to them justice, equal and accessible to all.