7 Ways Ruth Bader Ginsburg Was a Hero for Parents Everywhere
The U.S. Supreme Court justice made it her mission to go to bat and blaze trails for parents, women, and families throughout her storied career.
At 87 years old, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died due to complications of metastatic pancreas cancer, the Court announced. Before being appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, Ginsburg made her mark as a revolutionary warrior for gender rights. Whether she was breaking barriers as one of only several women at Harvard Law School or arguing in front of the Supreme Court that the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection applied to gender, Ginsburg dedicated her life to trailblazing and creating progressive change for women and families.
Here, 7 ways Ginsburg, a beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and feminist icon was a hero for parents everywhere.
1. She Led the Way for Moms Earning Their Law Degree
In 2016, women made up a majority of law students, holding just over 50 percent of the seats at accredited law schools in the United States. But in 1956, women accounted for less than 3 percent of the legal profession in the U.S., and only one woman had ever served on a federal appellate court, recalled Ginsburg in a 2016 New York Times op-ed.
When Ginsburg started at Harvard Law School, she was one of just nine women in a class of about 500 men. She was the only mother in her class, as well. After attending Cornell University for her Bachelors degree, Ginsburg, her husband Marty, and their baby girl Jane moved to Cambridge.
"Jane was 14 months when I started," Ginsburg told Dahlia Lithwick in a recent interview with Slate.com. "So, my time was used very efficiently, for classes, for studying after class, then come home at 4 p.m. to take care of Jane."
2. She and Her Husband Marty Modeled Equal Parenting
In 2001, speaking to the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, Ginsburg said, "Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation." And well before terms like "mental load" and "invisible work" became buzz-worthy, Ginsburg and her husband, Marty, illustrated what an equal partnership and equal parenting, not beholden to gender stereotypes, looked like.
Ginsburg famously didn't believe that cooking was her "strong suit." "To the eternal appreciation of our food-loving children (we became four in 1965, when our son, James, was born), Marty made the kitchen his domain and became chef supreme in our home," she wrote in the New York Times.
She continued, "Marty coached me through the birth of our son, he was the first reader and critic of articles, speeches and briefs I drafted, and he was at my side constantly, in and out of the hospital, during two long bouts with cancer. And I betray no secret in reporting that, without him, I would not have gained a seat on the Supreme Court."
3. She Argued That the Equal Protection Clause Must Apply to Both Genders
Defending mothers' and women's rights, Ginsburg wrote the plaintiff's brief for Reed v. Reed, a 1971 case in which a minor known as "Skip" died and his mother, who was separated from his father, wanted to be designated as administrator of his estate. The mother had filed her petition before Skip's father filed his, yet his was automatically approved due to an Idaho statute that stated that "males must be preferred to females" when there was more than one qualified person available to administer someone's estate.
Ginsburg argued that this violated the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Supreme Court unanimously agreed and struck down the Idaho statute, marking the first time the Court had ever applied the Equal Protection Clause to a law that discriminated on the basis of gender.
4. She Believed Being a Working Mom Fueled Her Success
In her 2016 New York Times op-ed, Ginsburg attributed her academic achievements to being a new mom. "My success in law school, I have no doubt, was in large measure because of baby Jane," she wrote. "I attended classes and studied diligently until 4 in the afternoon; the next hours were Jane’s time, spent at the park, playing silly games or singing funny songs, reading picture books and A. A. Milne poems, and bathing and feeding her. After Jane’s bedtime, I returned to the law books with renewed will. Each part of my life provided respite from the other and gave me a sense of proportion that classmates trained only on law studies lacked."
5. She Championed Working Moms
In Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., a working mom of two named Lily Ledbetter sued her employer, Goodyear, over discriminatory employee evaluations. She initially made the same salary as her male coworkers, but by the time she retired from the company, she was making thousands less a year than men at her job. Ledbetter sued on the basis of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which holds that covered employers can’t discriminate on the basis of gender, and the Equal Pay Act.
Ledbetter's right to sue years after the alleged discrimination took place was questioned by five justices. Ginsburg was among the four who dissented, and in her dissent, which she read from the bench, she argued that the Civil Rights Act's 180-day time limit shouldn’t apply in the case of discriminatory pay since gender-based discrimination can happen gradually. "A worker knows immediately if she is denied a promotion or transfer," said Ginsburg. "Compensation disparities, in contrast, are often hidden from sight."
6. She Fiercely Defended Choice
Throughout her time on the Court, Ginsburg stood up for pregnant people's health care. In her 1993 Senate confirmation hearings, she famously said, "The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman's life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When the government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a full adult human responsible for her own choices."
And in 2016's Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, the Court ruled that Texas cannot place restrictions on the delivery of abortion services that create an undue burden for women seeking an abortion. In her concurrence, Ginsburg wrote that modern abortions are so safe relative to other medical procedures, including childbirth itself, that any law that made accessing abortions more difficult in the name of safety could not pass judicial review.
7. She Called Out the Countless Economic and Social Disparities Faced by Women and Families
Despite her wins for gender equality over the decades, Ginsburg acknowledged in the Times piece how much work there is left to be done. "Most people in poverty in the United States and the world over are women and children," she wrote. "Women’s earnings here and abroad trail the earnings of men with comparable education and experience, our workplaces do not adequately accommodate the demands of childbearing and child rearing, and we have yet to devise effective ways to ward off sexual harassment at work and domestic violence in our homes."
Nonetheless, Ginsburg believed in Dr. Martin Luther King's quote "the arc of the moral universe is long, but bends toward justice," adding but only "if there is a steadfast commitment to see the task through to completion." And she had faith in our country's ability to step up, concluding in her op-ed, "I am optimistic ... that movement toward enlistment of the talent of all who compose 'We, the people,' will continue."