I don’t think I could write this week without paying tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The Harvard Gazette ran a story titled The Life and Legacy of RBG, in which representatives of the Harvard community commented on her accomplishments and achievements. I’ll just note a few highlights but the link to the article is below if you want to read it.
RBG was a champion of equality. “At the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, she was the chief architect of a campaign against sex-role stereotyping in the law, arguing and winning five landmark Supreme Court cases during the 1970s.” Justice Ginsburg also will be remembered for her resilience. Rather than letting her personal challenges slow her down, they seemed to invigorate her even more in her pursuit of social justice. “Profound challenges — the loss of her mother the day before she graduated from high school, her husband’s struggle with cancer while they were both in law school — fueled her fierce determination to accomplish her dreams and achieve justice for others.”
The article concludes with Daphna Renan, a professor of law. “RBG was tenacious, unflappable, and deeply wise. She was a visionary in the fight for women’s equality, and she was a fighter until the end. She was as careful with her drafting as she was brave in her argument and powerful in her reasoning. She was grace and grit combined, and she never lost sight of the impact law can have on people’s lives.”
My wife and I were discussing Justice Ginsburg after her death and her many accomplishments. Jen noted that she admired her as a person but also the way that she structured her legal arguments and strategies. During a time when the business and legal professions were male dominated, Justice Ginsburg pursued gender equality choosing cases carefully and, at times, by representing men who faced discrimination. In one of those cases, she represented Stephen Wiesenfeld who as a consultant made significantly less money than his wife, Paula who worked as a teacher before her death during childbirth in 1972. Wiesenfeld held that he was entitled to his wife’s Social Security survivor benefits after she died, payments theretofore reserved for widows but not widowers, who were the assumed breadwinners in the American household. Justice Ginsburg argued that the Social Security Act of 1935 discriminated against men. She won a unanimous verdict and simultaneously legitimized women’s payments into the Social Security system.
Using an argument to counter discrimination against men in order to pursue gender equality allowed Justice Ginsburg to win cases. She was able to see a different perspective on the world and use it to work towards the larger goals she was seeking. I believe that many of us could benefit from seeing a different perspective on any number of things in our lives which could help us to fully understand and appreciate all sides of an issue and lead to more informed decisions.
This week’s selection is:
On the Basis of Sex
The true story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her struggles for equal rights, and the early cases of a historic career that lead to her nomination and confirmation as U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice.