How Gins­burg changed women’s lives in Amer­ica

The as­so­ciate jus­tice lies in state today, first woman so hon­ored

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Sara M Mo­niuszko, Maria Puente and Veron­ica Bravo USA TODAY

Even in death, Ruth Bader Gins­burg is mak­ing his­tory for women.

The Supreme Court as­so­ciate jus­tice, a driv­ing force for gen­der equal­ity in the United States who died last week at age 87, will be the first woman to lie in state Fri­day in the the U.S. Capi­tol. Thirty-four men have been so hon­ored since 1852.

The honor comes af­ter Gins­burg lay in re­pose at the U.S. Supreme Court on Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day, a fi­nal visit to the high court she served for 27 years.

Dur­ing those decades, Gins­burg helped act as a voice for women – and men – in count­less ways, from ed­u­ca­tion to work­place dis­crim­i­na­tion.

She co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU as a lawyer, and brought and ar­gued the cases that led the high court to af­firm pro­tec­tions against gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Though it would be im­pos­si­ble to list ev­ery tri­umph that Gins­burg helped achieve, we’re look­ing back to trace some of the im­pact she’s had on women’s lives in Amer­ica.

Here are just some of the con­tri­bu­tions she made for women, both on a le­gal and per­sonal level.

1. Be­fore Gins­burg, state-funded schools didn’t have to ad­mit women

In the 1996 United States v. Vir­ginia case, Gins­burg wrote the ma­jor­ity opin­ion that it is un­con­sti­tu­tional for schools funded by tax­payer dol­lars to bar women.

“There is no rea­son to be­lieve that the ad­mis­sion of women ca­pa­ble of all the ac­tiv­i­ties re­quired of (Vir­ginia Mil­i­tary In­sti­tute) cadets would de­stroy the in­sti­tute rather than en­hance its ca­pac­ity to serve the ‘more per­fect union,’ ” Gins­burg wrote.

Speak­ing to USA TODAY, women’s rights at­tor­ney Glo­ria Allred de­scribed Gins­burg’s opin­ion in the case as “ground­break­ing.”

“She was clear that state-spon­sored ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions could not ex­clude women on ac­count of their gen­der,” Allred ex­plained.

2. Women couldn’t sign a mort­gage or have a bank ac­count with­out a male co-signer

Gins­burg paved the way for the Equal Credit Op­por­tu­nity Act, which passed in 1974 and al­lowed women to ap­ply for credit cards and mort­gages with­out a male co-signer.

Naomi Mezey, law pro­fes­sor and co­founder of the Gen­der+ Jus­tice Ini­tia­tive at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity, told USA TODAY that Gins­burg’s work sur­round­ing women’s fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence laid a base for fur­ther is­sues of equal­ity and in­de­pen­dence.

Athia Hardt, a for­mer Ari­zona Repub­lic re­porter and cur­rent con­sul­tant with Hardt and As­so­ciates, told USA TODAY about her per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence with a bank telling her she could no longer have her ac­count in her name af­ter she mar­ried, but in­stead needed to be un­der “Mrs. Charles Case.”

“I said, ‘I’m not tak­ing his name,’ and they said, ‘ That doesn’t mat­ter,’ “she re­called, say­ing she felt “both frus­trated and an­gry at the sys­tem.”

In a post to her Face­book page fol­low­ing Gins­burg’s death, Hardt shared her story and en­cour­aged other women to do the same as a way to “honor RBG with our mem­o­ries of some­thing we en­coun­tered be­fore she changed the world.”

Glo­ria Feldt, au­thor and for­mer pres­i­dent of Planned Par­ent­hood, was an­other woman to share her ex­pe­ri­ence on the Face­book post.

“I had been em­ployed full time for sev­eral years and was earn­ing more than my ex. I went to buy a car and couldn’t get a loan with­out my hus­band’s sig­na­ture,” she wrote. “That was my tip­ping point to fem­i­nist ac­tivism.”

3. Gins­burg helped women make strides to­ward equal pay

In 2007, Gins­burg fa­mously dis­sented from the Supreme Court’s de­ci­sion on the pay dis­crim­i­na­tion case Led­bet­ter v. Goodyear Tire & Rub­ber Co.

“When she was in the mi­nor­ity, she was a pow­er­ful voice in dis­sent in ways that changed the game,” said Emily Martin, gen­eral coun­sel at the Na­tional Women’s Law Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton. “For ex­am­ple, when five jus­tices ruled against Lilly Led­bet­ter in her pay dis­crim­i­na­tion case, Jus­tice

Gins­burg’s call to ac­tion in­spired the public and Congress to change the law and strengthen equal pay pro­tec­tions.”

4. Her pres­ence on the court pre­served a woman’s right to choose

She was a cru­cial vote on the cur­rent court to keep Roe v. Wade. Even though she had doubts about the way the mon­u­men­tal case was de­cided, she was in no doubt about women’s right to choose.

Ran­dall Kessler, a fam­ily law and trial lawyer in At­lanta, says Gins­burg was an in­dis­pens­able brick in the le­gal wall that has pro­tected Roe v. Wade since the 1970s, and not just on the Supreme Court.

“Now she’s gone, it means pro­choice pro­po­nents are scared to death of the un­known,” he says. “They be­lieve (her death and re­place­ment) will em­power state leg­is­la­tures to pass new laws or rein­tro­duce those laws al­ready struck down by the Supreme Court.”

5. She pushed to pro­tect preg­nant women in the work­place

In 1972, Gins­burg ar­gued that ex­clud­ing a preg­nant woman from the Air Force, like in the case of Struck v. Sec­re­tary of De­fense, is sex dis­crim­i­na­tion.

“It was stan­dard 50 years ago for women to be fired from their jobs when they were preg­nant,” Mezey ex­plained. “(Gins­burg) her­self hid her preg­nancy while she was teach­ing at a law school in or­der not to be told that she couldn’t teach.”

But as a lit­i­ga­tor and on the Supreme Court, Martin ex­plained, Gins­burg changed “what was pos­si­ble for women in the U.S.”

Mezey added that Gins­burg was able to iden­tify and help ad­dress stereo­types, both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive, that “none­the­less end up cre­at­ing self-ful­fill­ing prophe­cies of un­equal dis­tri­bu­tion of work.”

“In her life – in­clud­ing as a daugh­ter, a woman, a lawyer and a mother her­self – she ac­tu­ally saw so much of what turned out to be pro­foundly un­just and un­equal,” Mezey said.

6. Gins­burg ar­gued women should serve on ju­ries

Dur­ing the 1979 case Duren v. Mis­souri, jury duty was op­tional for women in sev­eral states be­cause it was viewed to be a bur­den for women whose role was seen as the “cen­ter of home and fam­ily life.” Gins­burg, who rep­re­sented Billy Duren in the case, ar­gued that women should serve on ju­ries on the ba­sis that they are val­ued the same as men.

In a 2009 in­ter­view with USA TO

DAY, Gins­burg up­held this no­tion, say­ing, “Women be­long in all places where de­ci­sions are be­ing made. … It shouldn’t be that women are the ex­cep­tion.”

7. Gins­burg was a key vote in grant­ing same-sex mar­riages

The 2015 case Oberge­fell v. Hodges, which al­lowed queer women and the rest of the LGBTQ com­munity the right to same-sex mar­riages in all 50 states, ended in a 5-4 rul­ing. With­out her, the out­come may have been dif­fer­ent.

Imani Ru­pert-Gordon, the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Na­tional Cen­ter for Les­bian Rights, said Gins­burg’s im­pact on queer women spans far beyond just the is­sue of gay mar­riage.

“She re­ally was re­spon­si­ble for help­ing us ex­pand the con­cept of gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion,” she said. “It’s those same types of prin­ci­ples that led to the in­tel­lec­tual foun­da­tion that would ex­tend dis­crim­i­na­tion pro­tec­tions to other con­sid­er­a­tions like gen­der iden­tity and sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, which is im­por­tant in gen­eral but es­pe­cially im­por­tant to LGBTQ peo­ple.”

Mezey added that in Gins­burg’s gen­der ad­vo­cacy, she “opened up space for pro­tec­tion of peo­ple on the ba­sis of gen­der iden­tity.”

8. Gins­burg made it cool to be a con­fi­dent, hard-work­ing fe­male leader

Though Gins­burg left her mark on the le­gal world, she also had a last­ing in­flu­ence on women on an in­di­vid­ual level by be­ing an ex­am­ple of a pow­er­ful woman in her writ­ing, speak­ing and work as a judge.

And Gins­burg’s im­pact on em­pow­er­ment didn’t stop with her gen­er­a­tion or the next – she’s con­tin­ued to en­er­gize young women. Her rise as a pop cul­ture icon has in­spired books, movies and even Hal­loween cos­tumes.

“That grief is about her, about peo­ple’s con­nec­tion to her,” said Louise Melling, deputy le­gal direc­tor of the ACLU who heads its newly re­named Ruth Bader Gins­burg Cen­ter for Lib­erty. “I’m think­ing about what an icon she be­came in the last 20 years – I own an RBG bracelet be­cause some­one sent it to me! I can’t think of any other jus­tice who be­came a pop cul­ture icon in that par­tic­u­lar way.”

Hardt says Gins­burg’s legacy has also taught oth­ers to “con­tinue to do the hard work.”

“She re­ally kept go­ing on the good fight for her whole life,” she said. “She re­ally is a hero­ine.”

In an in­ter­view with USA TODAY in 2013, Gins­burg ex­em­pli­fied this ideal, in­sist­ing she would con­tinue work­ing even as oth­ers pres­sured her to step down as the old­est jus­tice on the court.

“As long as I can do the job full­steam, I would like to stay here,” she said. “I have to take it year by year at my age, and who knows what could hap­pen next year? Right now, I know I’m OK.”


A child in a Su­per­girl cos­tume pays her re­spects to Gins­burg, who was a pop cul­ture icon and a hero to many women and girls. The as­so­ciate jus­tice in­spired books and movies, jew­elry and ap­parel, and even Hal­loween cos­tumes.


As­so­ciate Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg lies in re­pose at the Supreme Court on Thurs­day.

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