20 years of closed-door conversations with Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died at age 87 on Friday, reached the heights of power at her own pace, always recalibrating the time she put to family and her pioneering career.

"There is no man, no woman, who has it all," she remarked in one interview with me as we sat in her oak-paneled chambers filled with contemporary art. "Life just isn't that way."

In my last one-on-one session in her chambers, in January 2020 as a fire crackled, she had more pressing health concerns on her mind: "I'm cancer free. That's good." A year earlier she had undergone lung cancer surgery and, a few months after that, had endured a second pancreatic cancer scare.

For nearly two decades, Ginsburg permitted me to visit her private office to gather information for books I wrote about the Supreme Court and for my daily journalism work. Justices rarely open their doors to reporters, and I never took these sessions for granted. The nine members of the bench operate behind layers of security and a desire for secrecy as they decide the law of the land. Some justices go to great lengths to control their public images.