After Backlash, RBG Award Ceremony Canceled

Relatives said slate of awardees including Musk, Murdoch was an 'affront'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 15, 2024 1:42 PM CDT
Updated Mar 19, 2024 2:55 PM CDT
RBG's Family Says Awards in Her Name Are an 'Affront'
In this Oct. 3, 2019, photo, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks at Amherst College.   (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)
UPDATE Mar 19, 2024 2:55 PM CDT

After a backlash from the late Supreme Court justice's family, the Dwight D. Opperman Foundation has canceled April's Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Leadership Award gala. This year, the award would have been given to men for the first time—including Elon Musk and Rupert Murdoch. Foundation chair Julie Opperman said the foundation is "not interested in creating controversy," the Washington Post reports. She said the foundation will "reconsider its mission and make a judgment about how or whether to proceed in the future." Ginsburg's relatives had called the slate of awardees an "affront" to her memory. Her son Jim Ginsburg tells the Post he is "relieved" that the ceremony won't happen this year.

Mar 15, 2024 1:42 PM CDT

Relatives of late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg say they don't want her name to be associated with this year's slate of Ruth Bader Ginsburg Leadership Award recipients, which includes Elon Musk and Rupert Murdoch. Mother Jones reports that relatives consider the conservative billionaires to be "odd and inappropriate" choices.

  • The awards, established by the Dwight D. Opperman Foundation, started out as the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Woman of Leadership Award in 2020. Ginsburg herself presented the first award to philanthropist Agnes Gund. She died later in 2020 and recipients in later years, including Barbra Streisand and Queen Elizabeth II, were not controversial. But this year, the foundation expanded the number of awards and decided to make men eligible, the Washington Post reports. Sylvester Stallone, Martha Stewart, and white-collar-criminal-turned-philanthropist Michael Milken are also on this year's list.

  • This year's "slate of awardees is an affront to the memory of our mother and grandmother," her family said in a statement. They said the Opperman Foundation "has strayed far from the original mission of the award and from what Justice Ginsburg stood for." The award was intended to honor "an extraordinary woman who has exercised a positive and notable influence on society and served as an exemplary role model in both principles and practice," they said.
  • NYU law professor Trevor Morrison, a former Ginsburg clerk, said he was "appalled" by the choice of awardees, which failed to reflect "any appreciation for—or even awareness of" Ginsburg's legacy.
  • Morrison said Ginsburg's children informed him that they "very much" want her name taken off the award unless the original criteria are restored. He said that while the awardees are all successful and "may well deserve accolades of one form or another," the decision to bestow upon them the particular honor of the RBG Award is a striking betrayal of the Justice's legacy," per Mother Jones.

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  • In a press release, the foundation said the award "was expanded this year to include trailblazing men and women." Foundation chair Julie Opperman, widow of former West Publishing Company Dwight Opperman, a longtime friend of RBG, said Ginsburg "fought not only for women but for everyone."
  • Irin Carmon, co-author of Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, tells the Post that this isn't the kind of gender equality Ginsburg had in mind. Carmon says the gender equality cases Ginsburg pursued on behalf of male plaintiffs were about challenging stereotypes. "They were men who were engaged in caregiving, or being supported by breadwinning spouses. They were not men who were fulminating about how birth control makes you fat," she says, referring to some of Musk's recent comments.
  • Julie Opperman is a major Republican donor, Mother Jones reports. Brendan Sullivan, the lawyer who chairs the awards, is also a familiar name in conservative circles: He was Oliver North's attorney in the Iran-Contra scandal.
  • The awards will be presented at an April 13 gala at the Library of Congress, the Hill reports.
(More Ruth Bader Ginsburg stories.)

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