As you may know, we have lost a true champion for justice, civil liberties, and equality in the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was truly “notorious” in every good way. Her carefully planned legal strategies designed to break down the structures of oppression and discrimination in our country based on gender broke down walls that no one thought could be accomplished – especially by a woman. She was calm, brilliant, clear, and concise in her arguments. While facing the challenges of cancer, she promised to continue her seat on the bench “full steam” until she could no longer. We now have to continue to do the work with the same degree of passion and vigilance she has shown. Rest in Power, our Notorious RBG.
The recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings indicate that we currently have justices who believe that more compromises should be made regarding our reproductive freedom and right to bodily autonomy. The pressure now must be on the U.S. Senate to not vote on a new justice before the next presidential administration takes the White House. There is much talk that the U.S. constitution allows for the current administration to name a nominee and the senate has right to move for a vote to be taken, even before the national election.
With voting already underway, there should be no question that it should be left up to the American people to decide who gets to nominate the next U.S. Supreme Court justice. No nomination should advance or be voted on until after Inauguration Day.
Landmark cases of Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
In the 1970s, Ginsburg founded and led the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, for which she argued and won five landmark gender equality cases before the Supreme Court.
● Reed v. Reed, 1971. Ginsburg wrote the plaintiff’s brief, that relied on the 14th Amendment in the Supreme Court’s first case applying the Equal Protection Clause to a law that discriminated on the basis of gender. The Court unanimously agreed and struck down the Idaho statute that stated that “males must be preferred to females” when there was more than one qualified person available to administer someone’s estate. The case: A minor, Richard Lynn Reed, known as “Skip,” died and his mother wanted to be designated as administrator of his estate. Sally and her husband, Cecil Reed, had separated. Despite Sally filing a petition first, Cecil’s application was automatically approved because of an Idaho statute.
● Frontiero v. Richardson, 1973. A plurality of the Supreme Court found the U.S. military benefit policy — which required that a woman applying for benefits for her husband prove that he was a dependent, even though men in the Air Force didn’t have to prove that their wives were dependent on them — violated the Constitution. RBG argued that the court should use a strict standard of judicial scrutiny for laws that used sex as a classification.
● Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, 1975. Invalidated gender-based distinctions in survivors’ benefits, granting widowers the same benefits as widows. RBG argued that while giving widows special treatment sounded nice, it wasn’t. Withholding benefits to widowers devalued the work of their deceased wives.
● Craig v. Boren, 1976. Ginsburg argued that women shouldn’t be allowed to purchase beer at an earlier age than men. An Oklahoma statute allowed women to purchase beer at age 18 but that forbade men to purchase it before they turned 21. Ginsburg filed an amicus brief on behalf of the ACLU, honing in on the old-fashioned gender stereotypes embodied by the law. The court agreed, determining for the first time that laws that hinged on sex should pass “intermediate scrutiny.” Note: This case is also key precedent for the issue of third-party standing and is one of the cases that the Center for Reproductive Rights relied on in June Medical Services v. Russo for arguments in support of ensuring that abortion providers can continue to assert their patients rights in court.
● Duren v. Missouri, 1979. Ginsburg argued, a case in which a Missouri man accused of murder argued he couldn’t get a fair trial because of a law that made jury service optional for women. She told the court that such exemptions didn’t just make the jury pool unfair; it devalued women’s contributions to juries. The Court agreed 8-1, and held that the underrepresentation of women on local juries was due to their exclusion from the jury selection process. Nominated to Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993, much of RBG’s legacy is in her dissents. She held out hope that the dissents she had written or joined would someday command majorities.
● United States v. Virginia, 1996. Ginsburg wrote a decision holding the Virginia Military Institute’s refusal to admit women violated women’s equal rights and was unconstitutional: “‘Inherent differences’ between men and women, we have come to appreciate, remain cause for celebration, but not for denigration of the members of either sex or for artificial constraints on an individual’s opportunity.”
● Stenberg v. Carhart, 2000. RBG joined Breyer’s majority opinion holding that a Nebraska law banning a second trimester abortion procedure was unconstitutional. Ginsburg cited Stenberg v. Carhart in her dissent against the court’s opinion of Gonzalez v. Carhart.
● Gonzalez v. Carhart, 2006. RBG dissented when the Supreme Court upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, calling the decision “alarming.” She decried the ruling, stating that the decision banned “a procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.”
● Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 2007. Justice Ginsburg dissented in the ruling against Lilly Ledbetter — a tire factory employee who learned, decades into her tenure, that she was being paid much less than men in the exact same supervisory role. However, she lost the case because the Civil Rights Act had a statute of limitations for reporting on discrimination; claims like hers had to be filed within 180 days of an employer’s decision to pay a worker less—even if she did not learn about the unfair pay until years after the discrimination began. The “Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009” was a direct response to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision on May 29, 2007, which amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 so that unfair pay complaints can be filed within 180 days of a discriminatory paycheck—and that 180 days resets after every such paycheck is issued.
● Shelby County v. Holder, 2013. RBG dissented in case that struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, writing that the majority had been shortsighted in saying the law was no longer needed. “It is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm,” she wrote, “because you are not getting wet.” This is the case that lead to her “Notorious RBG” nickname.
● Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 2014. In her dissent, Ginsburg wrote that when Congress required insurance plans to include preventive services specific to women’s health needs, including contraceptives, it understood that the “ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation, has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.”
● Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, 2016. RBG authored a concurrence to the opinion, in which the Court ruled that Texas cannot restrict abortion services that unduly burden abortion. She wrote: “it is beyond rational belief that [the Texas law] could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law ‘would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions.’”
● June Medical Services v. Russo, 2020. Ginsburg joined Breyer’s plurality opinion in striking down Louisiana’s unconstitutional admitting privileges law. During oral arguments, Ginsburg stood strong in pushing back on Louisiana’s defense of their unconstitutional law, noting that Louisiana’s admitting privileges requirements were arbitrary and unnecessary and did not appear to provide any benefit whatsoever to women’s health or safety.
● Trump v. Pennsylvania and Little Sisters of the Poor; Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania, 2020. The majority held that the government has the authority under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to provide exemptions from the contraceptive coverage policy for employers with religious and moral objections. In her dissent, Ginsburg accused the Court of casting “totally aside countervailing rights and interests in its zeal to secure religious rights to the nth degree.” Ginsburg stated that the Court’s decision is “[d]estructive of the Women’s Health Amendment” and “leaves women workers to fend for themselves, to seek contraceptive coverage from sources other than their employer’s insurer and, absent another available source of funding, to pay for contraceptives out of their own pockets.” During oral arguments, which Ginsburg participated in from her hospital bed, she was the only member of the Supreme Court to really drive home the point of the harmful impact of the Trump administration’s rules on women. She honed in on the fact that the Trump-Pence rules “toss to the wind” Congress’ intent that women have seamless, no-cost contraceptive coverage. Ginsburg emphasized that she was extremely troubled by how quickly the government abandoned Congress’s interest in ensuring that women have access to this coverage.