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Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court’s Feminist Icon, Is Dead at 87

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tags: Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg



Her late-life rock stardom could not remotely have been predicted in June 1993, when President Bill Clinton nominated the soft-spoken, 60-year-old judge, who prized collegiality and whose friendship with conservative colleagues on the federal appeals court where she had served for 13 years left some feminist leaders fretting privately that the president was making a mistake. Mr. Clinton chose her to succeed Justice Byron R. White, an appointee of President John F. Kennedy, who was retiring after 31 years. Her Senate confirmation seven weeks later, by a vote of 96 to 3, ended a drought in Democratic appointments to the Supreme Court that extended back to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s nomination of Thurgood Marshall 26 years earlier.

There was something fitting about that sequence, because Ruth Ginsburg was occasionally described as the Thurgood Marshall of the women’s rights movement by those who remembered her days as a litigator and director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union during the 1970s.

The analogy was based on her sense of strategy and careful selection of cases as she persuaded the all-male Supreme Court, one case at a time, to start recognizing the constitutional barrier against discrimination on the basis of sex. The young Thurgood Marshall had done much the same as the civil rights movement’s chief legal strategist in building the case against racial segregation.

When Ruth Ginsburg arrived to take her junior justice’s seat at the far end of the Supreme Court’s bench on the first Monday of October 1993, the setting was familiar even if the view was different. She had previously stood on the other side of that bench, arguing cases that were to become legal landmarks. She presented six cases to the court from 1973 to 1978, winning five.

Her goal — to persuade the Supreme Court that the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection applied not only to racial discrimination but to sex discrimination as well — was a daunting one. The Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren, famous for its liberal rulings across a variety of constitutional fronts, had never recognized sex discrimination as a matter of constitutional concern. The Supreme Court under Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, who was appointed by President Richard Nixon in 1969, figured to be no more hospitable.

Ms. Ginsburg started from the premise that she needed to provide some basic education for an audience that was not so much hostile as uncomprehending. She took aim at laws that were ostensibly intended to protect women — laws based on stereotyped notions of male and female abilities and needs.

“The justices did not comprehend the differential treatment of men and women in jury selection and other legal contexts as in any sense burdensome to women,” she said in a 1988 speech. She added: “From a justice’s own situation in life and attendant perspective, his immediate reaction to a gender discrimination challenge would likely be: But I treat my wife and daughters so well, with such indulgence. To turn in a new direction, the court first had to gain an understanding that legislation apparently designed to benefit or protect women could have the opposite effect.”

Read entire article at New York Times

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