Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg exposed the hypocrisy of laws that appear to benefit women on the surface but instead reinforce the narrative of unavoidable dependence on men.
United States of America is called the land of opportunities. But even then, the US’ ethos of equal opportunity has historically been shackled in systemic injustices that most with authority conveniently ignore. But late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was different. A champion of the minorities and a visionary who better contemplated the America of past, present and future, The Notorious R.B.G, as she is affectionately called, was responsible for some monumental shifts that has resulted in the progressive American ideology of the day.
Justice Bader Ginsburg was the longest serving female judge in the United States Supreme Court, staying influential and leading the liberal block as an associate justice over 27 years. A forceful dissenter, undeterred from taking unpopular positions away from the Supreme Court majority, RGB influenced some monumental rulings in her long career as the chief advocate against discrimination and pro-liberty in the United States. A Brooklyn, New York native, RGB was the daughter of immigrant parents, an aspect of her upbringing which played a huge part in her liberal and inclusive ideology.
Like most ambitious women trying to make their place in a world governed by men, RGB faced discrimination on the basis of gender when trying to land a job. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter rejected her candidature as a clerk (1960) despite a strong recommendation from Harvard Law School’s future dean. As a young and fearless advocate of justice, she led the fight for gender equality and women’s rights in her early years, winning 5 of the 6 cases she argued in front of the Supreme Court. Her fight for equal stature to women wasn’t an impulsive explosion to end all injustice once and for all. Rather, she charted a strategic course to infiltrate the system, bare out biases in laws and address specific discriminations one by one.
Here are five biggest exploits of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a champion against systemic discrimination whose work has shaped the idea of a progressive and diverse America of the 21st Century.
Discrimination against People with Disabilities
RBG authored the majority opinion in a United States Supreme Court in a 1999 case where two plaintiffs with diagnosed mental illnesses sued an Atalanta based public institution for wrongful treatment. The US Supreme Court recognized mental illness as a form of disability. It held that people suffering from mental disabilities cannot be confined to institutions if their conditions are deemed appropriate for community placement. The decision gave people with mental disabilities the “right to live in the community” under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Abortion Rights – No partial justice
In a 2009 New York Times interview, RBG famously stated that the most important thing is that “the government has no business making that choice for a woman”. Just like her days as a young lawyer fighting gender discrimination, she backed abortion rights, being influential in annulling Nebraska’s partial-birth abortion law in 2000.
Watch: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Abortion Restrictions
Nevertheless, she was not someone intending to make changes on the surface. Famously, RBG dissented against Supreme Court majority on keeping restrictions on partial birth abortion. She opposed the decision to accept the US Congress’ findings which deemed the procedure unsafe for women. Similarly, Ginsburg criticized a landmark, pro-women ruling from 1973 for missing the opportunity to build more durable overall consensus for support of abortion rights. In 2016, she came down hard on the state of Texas, exposing the hypocrisy of a law to regulate abortion providers. A fiery Justice Bader Ginsburg opined that the law impeded access to abortions for women rather than aiming to protecting their health, as the state claimed.
Smashing down Male-Only admission policy
Leading the majority in Supreme Court, RBG came down hard on the Virginia Military Institute’s ‘male-only admission policy’. The state of Virginia, to get by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, came up with a proposed plan to setup up a Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership (VWIL), at a private liberal arts women’s college, Mary Baldwin College, to cater to women.
RBG stated that VMI’s argument was not “exceedingly persuasive” in justifying the need for policy of gender-based admissions. She also called out the flaw in setting up a different facility for women, arguing that VWIL would not live up to the promise of similar facilities, financial opportunities, prestige, faculty, courses, military training, alumni network and influence afforded by VMI to male cadets.
Rights of Communities over Companies
With a 7-2 majority RBG wrote the decision that favored the residents around an part of South Carolina’s North Tyger River in their stand to demand justice against a company that has polluted the river in the past and could do so again. The US Supreme Court accepted that the residents were right to claim that they couldn’t use the river for recreational activities due to the present of industrial pollutants.
The factory in question, polluting the river had ceased operations, which was the argument of the defendant for the case to be moot. However, RBG & the Supreme Court noted that the “polluter” could open up a similar factory in the area or any other place as it retained the licence. RBG’s decision also noted that there wasn’t the need to prove actual harm to the residents of the communities as the real hard for residents was viewed in the “aesthetic and recreational values” of the parts of river, influenced by the firm’s history of clean water permit violations.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act 2009
In 2007, ruled against a woman who had accused her employer Goodyear of acting with discriminatory intent. The employee claims that the discrimination had started long ago but was still oppressing her in the 180-day charging period. The verdict stated that “actual intentional discrimination” should have taken place during the charging period, rejecting the employee’s claim that each check with lesser pay was an act of discrimination. RBG recited her historic dissent in the court.
She argued that often discrimination takes place in “small increments over large periods of time. She also argued that small discriminations are different from termination of employment. She held that the fact that the employer had been discriminating in the past knowingly was cause for being held responsible.
Watch: The History of The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
The event led to Democrats advocating the stance in the Congress that earlier acts of discrimination can be incorporated in a claim of discriminatory act in the present even if old than the previous 180-day limiting period. The issue was at the core of the 2008 Presidential election campaign for President Barack Obama who finally signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into a law in 2009.
Lesser Known Facts about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
- Ginsburg’s nickname The Notorious R.B.G. is a spin on fellow Brooklyn New York native and famous rapper The Notorious B.I.G.
- In her many firsts, she broke barriers in academia becoming one of the first 20 female law professors in the US at the Columbia and Rutgers Law Schools.
- RBG was a fighter who overcame several terminal ailments – victory against Colon Cancer (1999), Pancreatic Cancer (2009), Heart Surgery (2014), and Lung Cancer (2018), before succumbing to metastatic pancreatic cancer related complications, aged 87.
- RBG was the co-founder of the first American law journal exclusively focussing on women’s rights Women’s Rights Law Reporter (1970).
- She co-wrote the first casebook on sex discrimination in a US law school while working at Columbia Law School where she was also the first tenured woman professor.
- With the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which she founded in 1972, RBG played an influential role in over 300 gender discrimination cases from 1973 to 1976.
- Legal experts, in unison, acknowledge that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s work acts as a form of deterrent for successive administrations in trying to treat women different from men under the guise of law.
She was small in stature but even the tallest looked up to her. Her voice was soft but her message rang loud and clear and will echo forever. Thank you, RBG. Rest In Peace. Respectfully, Dolly Parton pic.twitter.com/Sra7ge5K9b— Dolly Parton (@DollyParton) September 19, 2020