I do not normally choose liberals for my VIP, but I am making an exception this week. My VIP is U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who died on Friday, September 18, 2020.
All that knew Ginsburg claim that she had a great legal mind and asked tough questions as a Justice. She was a champion for women’s rights and won many cases that helped women as well as men. Before she was appointed to the Supreme Court, Ginsburg provided general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). While there, “she argued over 300 gender discrimination cases – six before the Supreme Court – and cofounded the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.”
Ginsburg had a reputation for be an advocate for gender equality. She served for 13 years as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals and 27 years as a justice on the Supreme Court. She left a legacy as champion for gender equality. While serving as an associate justice, she wrote 200 opinions – “and broke new ground for gender equality in the United States.”
Using the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteen Amendment and prior civil rights rulings on race, Ginsburg made the case for “why the Supreme Court should end gender discrimination. She “chipped away at discriminatory laws” in several smaller cases. Then she had a big case in 1971, Reed v. Reed. Relying on the Fourteenth Amendment, Ginsburg wrote the plaintiff’s brief.
Richard Lynn Reed, known as “Skip,” was a minor when he died, and his mother, Sally Reed, was designated as the administrator for Skip’s estate. Sally was separated from her husband Cecil Reed, and she filed her petition first. However, Idaho had a statute stating that “males must be preferred to females” if two or more people were qualified to administer an estate. Ginsburg argued that the statute violated the Equal Protection Clause, and the Supreme Court agreed. This was “the first time the Court had ever applied the Equal Protection Clause to a law that discriminated on the basis of gender.”
Ginsburg argued her first case before the Supreme Court in 1973. Frontiero v. Richardson was a “case that hinged on gender discrimination and government benefits.” A woman serving in the U.S. Air Force had a dependent husband and applied for benefits for him. She “was told she’d have to prove he was a dependent,” but men in the Air Force were not required to prove that they had dependent wives.
In an amicus brief, Ginsburg used the statute to argue that gender-based discrimination hurt men, too. “Why,” she asked the Court during oral arguments, “did the framers of the 14th Amendment regard racial [discrimination] as odious? Because a person’s skin color bears no necessary relationship to ability. Similarly, … a person’s sex bears no necessary relationship to ability.”
A plurality of the Supreme Court found the benefit policy violated the Constitution and argued that, because of the United States’ long history of gender-based discrimination, the court should use a strict standard of judicial scrutiny for laws that used sex as a classification.
Ginsburg protected women’s rights in numerous ways. In Craig v. Boren Ginsburg argued in 1976 that the age should be the same for men and women to purchase beer. Oklahoma had a statute that women could buy beer at age 18, but men had to wait until age 21. This case “honed in on the old-fashioned gender stereotypes embodied by the law” and protected women’s rights in an unusual way. “The court agreed, determining for the first time that laws that hinged on sex should pass ‘intermediate scrutiny’ – a standard of judicial review that hinged on whether the law was related to a legitimate governmental objective.”
In 1979, Ginsburg represented a man from Missouri who was accused of murder in Duren v. Missouri. She argued that the man could not have a fair trial if jury service was optional for women. She said that “such exemptions didn’t just make the jury pool unfair; it devalued women’s contributions to juries.” The court ruled 8-1 that “Exempting all women because of the … domestic responsibilities of some women is insufficient justification for their disproportionate exclusion.”
After Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court, she worked for equal rights for women. In Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Lily Ledbetter was fighting for the same salary earned by her male coworkers. The court ruled against her because the claim was not filed early enough and said that Congress had to act on it. “In 2009, President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to reset the statute of limitations on equal-pay lawsuits with every paycheck.”
Ginsburg was a firm supporter of a woman’s right to have an abortion. She wrote “a rousing defense of a woman’s right to choose” in her solo concurrence on the 2016 opinion of Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The “Court ruled that Texas cannot restrict abortion services that unduly burden women who seek an abortion.” This verdict is “another example of Ginsburg’s staunch defense of women” as well as a clear victory for women’s right to choose an abortion.
My daughter emphasized that women owe thanks to Ginsburg for many little things that might be taken for granted, such as the right for a women to open a bank account without permission from her father or husband or to get a credit card in her name. Even though Ginsburg’s politics were different than mine, I realize that she was a champion for women’s rights and am grateful for the rights that are mine because of her decades-long fight.