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Ruth Bader Ginsburg San Francisco Speech: Supreme Court Justice Talks Death Penalty, Gay Rights At U.C. Hastings

Ruth Bader Ginsburg San Francisco

By PAUL ELIAS   09/16/11 12:57 AM ET   AP

SAN FRANCISCO -- A day after evacuating a commercial airplane via an emergency chute, an uninjured and unruffled U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Thursday discussed with law students her distaste for the death penalty among other weighty legal issues.

Ginsburg spoke briefly Thursday during an appearance at a San Francisco law school about her ordeal a day earlier when her original flight west was forced to undergo an emergency evacuation in Washington D.C. after her flight was grounded because of engine problems.

The 78-year-old justice, who has battled cancer, was among the 178 passengers ordered to make the emergency exit when smoke appeared out of one of the plane's engines.

"I had not planned that as part of my journey," she said.

The court's oldest justice spent most of the night at the University of California, San Francisco's Hastings School of Law discussing her gender equality cases when she was a lawyer, as well as important cases and legal issues that came before her on the high court.

With prompting from Hastings professor Joan Williams, Ginsburg said she found the death penalty "the hardest part of the job."

Ginsburg said, if given her druthers, she would "go back to the day to when the Supreme Court said the death penalty can't be applied with an even hand."

Nonetheless, she said she stays engaged with death penalty cases – rather than automatically voting against the death penalty as her former colleague Justice John Paul Stevens did – so she can "a voice in what's going on."

Ginsburg was appointed to the federal appeals court in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter and the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

She said that even though the court often divides 5-4 on high-profile legal questions before it, she and her colleagues enjoy a collegial relationship. Ginsburg said she even travels the world with her philosophical opposite, Justice Antonin Scalia.

"Scalia is my biggest buddy at the opera," she said.

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Filed by Carly Schwartz  |