Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg championed the rights of everyone who struggled for equality – women, yes, as well as minorities, the marginalized, and workers.
As a young lawyer, Ginsburg herself was discriminated in the workplace. Although she graduated at the top of her law school class at Columbia, employers repeatedly rejected her. As Ginsburg later mused, “Not a law firm in the entire city of New York would employ me…. I struck out on three grounds: I was Jewish, a woman and a mother.”
This experience let to Ginsburg’s her early work with the ACLU. In a landmark case, Ginsburg successfully argued to the Supreme Court ruling that discrimination in the workplace on the basis of gender is unconstitutional — a revolutionary concept at the time.
After assuming the bench, both her opinions and her dissents shaped the lives of American workers in fundamental ways.
While it’s extremely difficult to choose exactly which cases were the most influential, here are three cases that demonstrate well Justice Ginsburg’s passion for the American people.
Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.
Justice Ginsburg’s dissent in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. led Congress to pass of one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in the past twenty years.
As she read her dissent in Ledbetter from the bench, Justice Ginsburg called on Congress to act. Her passionate call for justice resulted in the passage of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to allow more time for workers who have faced pay discrimination to file complaints.
The Ledbetter case demonstrates that even Justice Ginsburg’s dissents had profound implications for American workers.
Shelby County v. Holder
Ledbetter was one of Justice Ginsburg’s many landmark cases… and in fact, some of her most notable opinions were dissents.
In the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder case, Alabama’s Shelby county challenged Section 4b of the 1965 Voting Rights Act – a section that required states with a history of voter suppression to receive attorney general approval before making any voting law changes (otherwise known as “preclearance”)
This section of the voting rights act was intended to stop voting discrimination across the country, but especially in states like Alabama and Texas.
However, Shelby County argued that section 4b was outdated and unconstitutional in the 21st century – and a weak 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court agreed with them.
In a scathing dissent, Justice Ginsburg wrote that “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
Obergefell v. Hodges
The landmark 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges gave same-sex couple the right to marry in all 50 states.
During oral arguments, Justice Ginsburg eviscerated her opponents, arguing against Justices John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy’s notion that same-sex marriage would weaken the institution of marriage.
She said, “All of the incentives, all of the benefits that marriage affords would still be available. So, you’re not taking away anything from heterosexual couples. They would have the very same incentive to marry, all the benefits that come with marriage that they do now.”
Justice Ginsburg’s work as a litigator, as well as her outspoken support for LGBTQ+ rights, paved the way for this case.
Ultimately, in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage.
Every American worker – indeed, every person in this country — has benefitted from Justice Ginsburg’s work to ensure equality for all.
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