An award in RBG’s name will go to a star she loved, Barbra Streisand


It probably comes as no surprise that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the late associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and lifelong culture vulture, was a Barbra Streisand fan. “She loved fashion, she loved glamour, she loved food,” recalled her friend philanthropist Julie Opperman.

And she loved Streisand, the multi-hyphenate star who, like Ginsburg, was a headline-making daughter of Brooklyn. So when, late in her life, the jurist invited Opperman to her chambers to talk about establishing an annual award in her name for women who strove to change society in positive ways, the entertainer’s name quickly came up.

“She wanted to honor women of great passion and achievement,” Opperman said. “She wanted it to be women in the RBG tradition. I’m pleased to say Barbra Streisand was among them.”

Out of that March 2019 conversation — 18 months before Ginsburg’s death — came the impetus for the Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Woman of Leadership Award. And this year it will be given to Streisand, Opperman announced on Wednesday. The Dwight D. Opperman Foundation will officially honor the actress-director-singer-activist in a ceremony at the Library of Congress on April 22.

“Women everywhere have benefited from the brilliance and courage of the Hon. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Streisand said, in a statement to The Washington Post. “She is an inspiration to us all. She devoted her life to advancing equality and justice, and the world is a better place for it. I am so deeply honored to receive an award in the name of such an extraordinary woman, American hero and an icon to the world.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave her life to the country — and her love to the performing arts

Streisand, 80, becomes the fourth winner of the award, joining an estimable roster: arts patron Agnes Gund, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg and Queen Elizabeth II. Though Ginsburg mentioned Streisand as a potential recipient, she was officially selected by a 14-member awards committee chaired by David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group and chairman of the Kennedy Center board of trustees.

The award’s roots were in the long friendship of Ginsburg and Opperman’s late husband, Dwight, who was chief executive of the publishing company that created the widely used Westlaw legal database. Decades ago, Dwight Opperman instituted a prize for federal judges, the Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award. Ginsburg chaired the award committee twice.

Julie Opperman recalled sitting down with Ginsburg that day in 2019, which was also the justice’s 86th birthday. Noting that Ginsburg had “just gone through surgery and grueling chemo, I was surprised at how well she looked and how unusually erect she stood as she came around her desk,” Opperman wrote, on the occasion of the award’s launch in 2020.

Barbra Streisand, on the occasion of her 2008 Kennedy Center Honors

Ginsburg had a clear vision for a leadership award. “Justice Ginsburg was kind of adamant that we stayed true to who she was,” Opperman said in an interview last week, adding she had asked that the winners be decided by the system she trusted most: “She wanted a democratic process, with a nominating committee. She wanted that to be men and women from all walks of life.”

The Oscar-, Emmy- and Grammy-winning Streisand was recognized for her advocacy of a variety of causes, including voting rights, climate change research, and racial and gender equality. She was also cited for her charitable works — notably, the establishment of the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

The choice of the award’s latest recipient proved to be a shoo-in. “It’s fair to say that for Barbra Streisand, it was shortest deliberation we’ve ever had,” Opperman said.

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