September 19, 2020
Maryland NOW members experienced a range of emotions Friday evening upon hearing the news that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died at age 87 from complications with pancreatic cancer — grief, sadness, immense pride, and outrage. . Her impact on women’s rights and social justice issues through her majority opinions and dissents will be felt for generations.
It would be difficult to be online today, or at any time in the future, and not find articles everywhere describing her life and accomplishments. Perhaps most importantly, she worked to establish a different interpretation of gender equality for all women rather than simply establishing case law involving individual instances of discrimination.
In 1971 Ginsburg wrote the brief for the landmark case, Reed v. Reed. This case was the very first time that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was used to prohibit differential treatment based on sex. She cited as co-authors Pauli Murray and Dorothy Kenyon, giving them credit even though they did not actually help, but because she wanted to acknowledge the debt she owed them for their feminist arguments that had created a basis for her brief. (1)
She argued her first case before the Supreme Court in 1973, and thirty years later was confirmed as the second woman in our history to be named as a Justice to the Court.
Ginsburg’s decisions on women’s rights have been instrumental in the evolution of the laws involving sex discrimination, but her advocacy for a range of issues affecting many civil rights decisions shows the enormous impact she had on issues of our day. Even in her dissents, she made a difference.
To name a few:
United States v. Virginia (VMI – open admissions to include women; majority opinion) 1996
Shelby County v. Holder (voting rights in jurisdictions with a history of discrimination; dissent) 2013
Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co (gender discrimination involving lower pay for women; dissent) 2007
Hobby Lobby v. Burwell (allowing discrimination based on the employer’s religious beliefs; dissent) 2014
National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius (Obamacare’s contraception mandate; dissent) 2012 (2)
Bush v. Gore (reversal of a state’s decision on its own vote count; dissent) 2000
Ginsburg’s death makes an already horrible year and a very pivotal general election cycle even worse and all the more consequential. While it could be claimed that this helps Biden’s supporters, it also motivates Trump’s right-wing base.
RGB asked as her final wish, dictated to her granddaughter, that “. . . I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” From where we sit today that seems like an awfully tall order. But we cannot do less or work less diligently than she did all her life to try to win that outcome.
(1) Kerber, Linda K. (2013). No constitutional right to be ladies : women and the obligations of citizenship. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 199
(2) A case involving expansions for employers who have moral or religious objections to the ACA’s contraceptive mandate It will be heard after the general election on Nov. 10. We don’t know at this point if McConnell will push ahead to confirm a nomination prior to Nov.3 or simply move ahead with filling the seat with a Republican-controlled Senate with an 8 member court. While more than a few Republican senators’ re-election chances are in grave danger, Majority Leader McConnell announced his decision to move ahead with the process less than an hour after Ginsburg’s death was announced. Mark your calendars!