At an event for first-year law students at Georgetown University on Wednesday (also attended by none other than Tiffany Trump), Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg regaled her fight for women's rights in the legal sphere to the delighted crowd. When asked why she built her career around championing gender equality, Ginsburg replied, “You mean, how did I decide to become a flaming feminist litigator?”
Ginsburg, who was one of nine women in her class at Harvard Law School, told the crowd that she had to constantly defend her position at the school and that there were few anti-discrimination laws when she was entering the legal profession.
“Employers were upfront about wanting no, quote, 'lady lawyers,'” she said. “The main difference is all the closed doors are now open. There is nothing that a woman can’t do in the law.”
Ginsburg also talked about the struggle for women in law to find work-life balance. “I’m always sad to hear people say that to climb to the top of the tree in the legal profession, a woman has to forgo having a family and children,” she said, saying that the key was “to have a partner who thinks your work is as important as his.”
It isn't all too uncommon to see Ruth Bader Ginsburg's face emblazoned on a T-shirt or feminist button alongside Beyoncé lyrics or the moniker "Notorious R.B.G." The 83-year-old Supreme Court Justice has become a cultural icon and synonymous with the ongoing struggle for gender equality. Ginsburg has a long, storied legal career fighting for women's rights, beginning in the 1970s when she co-founded the Women's Project with the American Civil Liberties Union, which was involved in over 300 gender discrimination cases.
She has said, "Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation."
As the second woman to be appointed on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg established herself as an advocate for women's rights to an abortion. One of the most recent cases was 2016's Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt, in which the Court ruled that Texas can't place restrictions on abortion services or TRAP laws that create a burden for women seeking abortions. Siding with the majority on the case, Ginsburg wrote that TRAP laws were designed not to look after the health care of women, but to impede their access to abortions. She also joined the majority opinion in 2000's Stenberg v. Carhart, which struck down a Nebraska law banning “partial birth” abortions.
Ginsburg has also fought to reduce the pay gap between men and women. She wrote the dissent in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire in 2007, a case in which an Alabama woman unsuccessfully tried to sue in order to compensate for the years she had been paid significantly less than the men doing the same job as her.
“The Court’s insistence on immediate contest overlooks common characteristics of pay discrimination,” Ginsburg wrote in the dissent.
President Obama eventually signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law in 2009, giving employees more time to sue their employers and claim discrimination.
In addition to becoming a champion for women, Ginsburg has also advocated for the rights other minority groups. In 2015, Ginsburg sided with the majority to uphold a key component of the Affordable Care Act in King v. Burwell. The majority decision granted tax credits to low-income patients and allowed people to purchase health insurance on "exchanges" run by the states or the federal government.
Ginsburg was also instrumental in the historic Obergefell v. Hodges case in 2015 that made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. Not only had she challenged all of the arguments against marriage equality in the proceedings, but she had already publicly supported the decision for years by officiating same-sex marriages herself.
So here's to RBG, a brilliant mind and Our Lady of Justice.