Women Of Courage

Clara Spera on her wedding day with her mother, Jane Ginsburg, and her grandmother, who officiated at the civil ceremony in 2017. Photo credit: Clara Spera

Granddaughter of Ruth Bader Ginsburg will accept women’s rights award

By Suzanne Hazlett

“Conversations with Exceptional Women,” hosted by The Alturas Institute, is convening in Ketchum on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1. At the event, a special tribute will be bestowed upon the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was expected to be the lead speaker at the 2020 program. The event is open to the public, and tickets are available through The Alturas Institute.

Justice Ginsburg’s granddaughter, Clara Spera, is a prominent lawyer-activist dedicated to women’s reproductive rights. She will represent her family at the event, reminisce about life with her grandmother, and receive from The Alturas Institute the John and Abigail Adams Award, presented posthumously to Justice Ginsburg. The John and Abigail Adams Award recognizes work advancing women’s rights and equal protection of the law.

“My grandmother helped reform our country so that discrimination on the basis of sex is no longer explicitly written into law. But her project of achieving ‘real change, enduring change’ is far from complete,” Clara Spera said in a recent interview.

Clara Spera is an exceptional woman in her own right. She is a graduate of Harvard Law School, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Chicago. She is currently an Equal Justice Works fellowship attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project. Spera has written about sexual assault law for the Brookings Institution and is a previous contributor to Lawfare’s leading national security website. On national media platforms, she has also written about her relationship with her grandmother, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and appeared in the Oscar-nominated documentary “RBG.”

When asked how being a woman of courage may be different in the present day compared with the past, Spera said, “In the legal profession, my grandmother and other lawyers of her generation built upon the work of women who came before them—women like Pauli Murray.”

Anna Pauline “Pauli” Murray was an American civil rights activist who became a lawyer. Ruth Bader Ginsburg named Murray as a co-author of a brief on the 1971 Idaho-based case Reed v. Reed in recognition of her pioneering work on gender discrimination.

Spera said, “My grandmother never considered herself to be a solo author. Teamwork and collaboration were essential. In her era in the ’70s, the most prominent forms of discrimination were those written into law. Lawyers of the present, in my generation, don’t have to work at dismantling those laws, though many vestiges of types of discrimination still exist. Women of the present generation are able to push forward to equity not just on paper but in practice. The only reason we get to do that is because of the steps laid by the generations before us.”

While Spera says the next step in her career journey is yet to be determined.

“I am very proud of the work I have been doing with the ACLU for the past two years. It is a key to furthering women’s equality and true emancipation, which can only be realized with the liberty of one’s own body,” Spera said. “Do I feel pressure to follow in particular my grandmother’s footsteps? The answer is complex. Any pressure I do feel is productive pressure. A pressure that makes me want to be a contributing person in this world and society. I sense a pressure to be of service to others in my current frame of a lawyer. I would feel the same in another career path, say, within the arts—that pressure has become a motivation that undergirds my family,” said Spera.

The Alturas Institute will hold its 7th annual “Conversations with Exceptional Women,” featuring extraordinary leaders gathering from across the nation to celebrate “Women of Courage”—past and present. The event will take place at the Church of the Big Wood in Ketchum. Tickets are available for purchase at alturasinstitute.com.