As a petite young mother coming up in the 1950s, few would have expected Ruth Bader Ginsburg to excel in the legal field. However, armed with a solid work ethic and a sharp mind, she earned a seat on the nation’s highest court. Along the way, she presented, argued and decided on many impactful cases.
As a lawyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued a myriad of cases before the Supreme Court. While working with the ACLU, Justice Ginsburg served on behalf of Sharron Frontiero for Frontiero v. Richardson (1973). Lieutenant Frontiero sought dependent benefits (medical coverage, housing allowance) for her husband; however, these benefits were denied by the US Air Force. Husbands did not qualify as dependents even if, as Ginsburg stated in her oral argument, “she supplies over two thirds the support of the marital unit.” The Supreme Court found 8-1 in favor of Frontiero. In Califano v. Goldfarb (1973), Leon Goldfarb was a widower seeking survivor’s benefits under the Social Security Act. He was denied because his wife was not supplying 50 percent of their income when she died. Ruth Bader Ginsburg successfully argued that, since there was no such restrictions placed on widows, it was a violation of Mr. Goldfarb’s rights. The court ruled 5-4 in favor of Goldfarb.
Once on the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg offered decisions on ground-breaking cases. Arguably, two of the most impactful, particularly for women’s rights, have been United States v. Virginia (1996) and Ledbetter v. Goodyear (2007).
The Virginia Military Institute was the only exclusively male public undergraduate institution left in the country. In their argument, Virginia stated that they would open a separate institute for women. Justice Ginsburg delivered the majority opinion, stating that a separate institution still violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Lilly Ledbetter was employed by Goodyear for 19 years. During that time, she was promoted to area manager; however, she discovered she was being paid significantly less than men doing the exact same job. Goodyear answered her suit by claiming this pay difference was not discriminatory. The Supreme Court sided with Goodyear. In an unusual and bold move, Justice Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench. Dissents are generally written, filed with a clerk and never made public. Such a public divergence from the majority was a call to action. This lead to the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.
These cases highlight a career spent fighting gender discrimination, which makes RBG’s visit to Meredith entirely fitting. As we anticipate her visit, we’re reminded that we are the next generation of RBGs as we continue the fight for our rights.
By Karli Keller, Contributing Writer