The second female justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, an icon of women’s rights, often called the “notorious R.B.G.”; Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s recent death on September 18, 2020 has brought back the public's attention to her past career. Inspired by her own experiences with sex discrimination, Ginsburg worked to upend legislation that was an injustice against women’s rights. She was one of nine women at Harvard Law School in 1956, but struggled to find employment as a lawyer. After her four years of undergraduate courses, she got married and became a mother of a daughter, which made her conditions as a lawyer more unfavorable according to the laws. At the time, a very small percentage of lawyers in the U.S. were women, and only two women had ever served as federal judges. Furthermore, during her time as a professor at Rutgers Law School in 1963, she learned that she was being paid less than her male colleagues.
These experiences drove her to co-found the Women's Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which designed and taught law courses on gender discrimination laws. Here, she was outspoken about her disagreements with her colleagues' decisions. During her tenure as a Supreme Court of the United States justice, she took a massive part in creating laws that contributed to the upturn of women’s rights. The following five of the most recognized gender equality laws that she has passed.
1. Women have the right to financial independence and equal benefits.
Ginsburg’s work paved the way for the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which passed in 1974 and allowed women to apply for bank accounts, credit cards, and mortgages without a male co-signer. She also helped ensure that women could receive the same military housing allowances as men, and are no longer required to pay more for pension plans than men to receive the same benefits.
2. Employers cannot discriminate against employees based on gender or reproductive choices.
ACLU Women’s Rights Project attorney Susan Deller Ross and Ginsburg pushed to have pregnancy discrimination recognized as a form of sex discrimination. The pair is credited for helping pass the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which acknowledges pregnancy discrimination as unlawful. Women are now more protected against getting fired, or not being considered for a job because they are pregnant or have plans to get pregnant.
Throughout the 1970s, the Women’s Rights Project also fought against forced sterilizations. The procedures disproportionately impacted poor women, who had been told that sterilization was a requirement to keep their jobs. The group advocated for federal sterilization regulations and consent requirements.
3. Juries must include women.
Up until 1979, jury duty was considered optional for women in the US. Several states argued that women should be exempt from participating due to family and household obligations. Ginsburg fought to require women to serve on juries on the basis that their civic duty should be valued the same as men’s.
Ginsburg has been on the federal bench for twenty-five years. In 1993, she became the second woman ever to serve on the United States Supreme Court. Throughout that time she has continued to be a leading voice for gender equality, women's interests, and civil rights and liberties. Before and since her elevation to the Court, she has been a living illustration of the remarkable power of precise and persuasive legal analysis and has inspired women's advocates across the country and the world.
4. State-funded schools must admit women.
In 1996, Ginsburg led the ruling decision in the United States 5th Virginia case. Until then, women had been prohibited from attending the Virginia Military Institute. Ginsburg argued that rather than creating a separate women’s program, they should be allowed to join the same program as men.
5. Men are entitled to the same caregiving and Social Security rights as women.
Throughout her career, Ginsburg stressed that gender equality benefits both men and women. In 1968, Ginsburg represented Charles Moritz, a man who had never been married and claimed a tax deduction for caring for his mother, according to Smithsonian Magazine. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) denied his deduction because he was a man and unmarried. The US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that the IRS had violated the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution and in 1971 Section 214 of the IRS Code was amended to allow individuals to claim caregiving deductions, regardless of sex.
In the 1970s, Ginsburg later won two cases representing men, who were not granted survivor benefits under Social Security because they were men. The case set the standards for how sex-based laws lawes are evaluated under the constitution.
The most immediate impact of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death is that the liberal wing of the court has lost a seat. But Ginsburg also had a distinctive legal voice and long history as an advocate for gender equality. Amy Coney Barrett has replaced Ginsburg and serves as a supreme court judge, leading to 6-3 conservative majority in the court.
"Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation." Ginsburg once said. How are we doing so far?
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