Ruth Bader Ginsburg Made The Impossible Look EasyRoundup
tags: Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Serena Mayeri is Professor of Law and History at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, and the author of Reasoning from Race: Feminism, Law, and the Civil Rights Revolution.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died of pancreatic cancer at age 87 on Friday, made the impossible look easy.
One of a handful of women at Harvard Law School, she earned a spot on Law Review and graduated from Columbia at the top of her class, despite spending a year nursing her husband through cancer while caring for her young daughter. She built a career as a distinguished attorney and professor when top law firms and judges refused to hire “a woman, a mother, and a Jew.”
As an advocate, she persuaded a Court that a decade earlier had denied women the right to a jury of their peers to recognize equal protection of the laws regardless of sex. She won nearly unanimous Senate confirmation to the Supreme Court despite her long record of feminist advocacy and unapologetic defense of abortion rights. She overcame three kinds of cancer over two decades to serve 40 years on the federal bench, including more than a quarter century on the Supreme Court. She never relinquished her ideal of collegiality, even as the nation’s politics fractured into bitter partisanship.
But what made Justice Ginsburg a leader and jurist for the ages is not these individual accomplishments, remarkable as they are. Rather, it was her fight to make the paths she forged accessible to all Americans.
Ginsburg knew her own achievements required access to the university education denied to her mother, so she worked to open the doors of higher education to young people who lack the racial and economic privilege her own generation of white Jewish women began to enjoy.
Ginsburg often said that her ability to combine a pathbreaking legal career with a rich family life depended upon the steadfast support of a financially and emotionally secure husband who nurtured his wife’s ambitions, cooked gourmet meals, and participated in caring for their children. But she also understood that most families lacked the economic means to afford a comfortable home and domestic help, and relied on social insurance in hard times and old age. Ginsburg and her colleagues persuaded the Supreme Court that when the government gave housing, employment, and survivors' benefits to wives and not husbands, they devalued women’s work outside the home and men’s caregiving labor within it.
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