Last Friday evening, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died from pancreatic cancer. This Friday, she became the first woman ever to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol. Sadly, her death was quickly — almost immediately — politicized.
I was dismayed to see the vitriol aimed toward Ginsburg coming from the right. While many of us mourn her loss, there are too many saying things like, “What has she ever done for me?” Well, I’d like to tell you what she has done for you.
Ginsburg became a lawyer during a time when women were not welcome in either law school or the profession. The dean of Harvard Law School, where she attended, hosted a dinner for the nine first-year women — and then asked them all to explain what they were doing, “taking a seat that could be occupied by a man.”
She struggled to find work after graduation. Nevertheless, she persisted and became a professor at Rutgers Law School, where she discovered in 1963 that she was being paid less than her male colleagues. She and other female professors filed a class-action discrimination suit, which they won. She fought against discrimination her entire career.
She fought on behalf of pregnant women everywhere when she argued against an employer’s ability to fire a woman when she became pregnant or even had plans to become pregnant. She fought for a woman’s right to become pregnant when she fought against forced sterilizations as a requirement for women to keep her job.
She was instrumental in the landmark Olmstead v. L.C. case granting civil rights to people with disabilities. That decision held that people with disabilities have a qualified right to receive support and services in their own community rather than in an institution.
Ginsburg was instrumental in giving women the ability to be financially independent and responsible for their own credit. Before 1974, women could not get a credit card in their own name. Women could not buy their own home or their own car. Women had to have a male co-signer — a husband, a father, even a brother, but women, by themselves, were legally barred from even something as simple as having their own bank account.
Ginsburg’s work to get the Equal Credit Opportunity Act passed changed that. She also helped ensure that women could receive the same pension benefits as men and the same military housing allowances as men.
She fought for men to have equal rights as well, including caregiving rights and rights to Social Security benefits. Ginsburg argued for the right of a woman to put her husband on her health insurance plan if male workers could add their wives. In 1975, she argued in front of the Supreme Court in Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld that widowers deserved death benefits while caring for young children, something previously reserved only for widows. In her words, she believed that “men and women are persons of equal dignity and they should count equally before the law.”
Because of Ginsburg, state-funded schools cannot discriminate based on gender. Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion in 1996 United States v. Virginia case that it is unconstitutional for schools using taxpayer dollars as their funding source to refuse to admit women.
“There is no reason to believe that the admission of women ... would destroy the institute rather than enhance its capacity to serve the ‘more perfect union,’” she wrote.
Finally, she and her husband, Marty, led by example as they showed how to live in a true partnership. Michelle Ruiz wrote in Vogue earlier this week that it “has become increasingly clear that Marty was Ruth’s not-so-secret weapon ... in a career full of legal battles dismantling gender discrimination, Ruth’s own love story may be the best case study for proving the power of an egalitarian partnership.”
For these and many other reasons, conservative women and men mourn the death of Ginsburg. Former state Rep. Becky Edwards said it well when she posted a picture of Ginsburg with the following quote:
"They, the builders of the nation,
Blazing trails along the way;
Stepping-stones for generations
Were their deeds of ev’ry day.
Building new and firm foundations,
Pushing on the wild frontier,
Forging onward, ever onward,
Blessed, honored Pioneer!"
Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.