5 Rights We Wouldn’t Have Without Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Sara Li
·4 mins read
Photo credit: David Hume Kennerly - Getty Images
Photo credit: David Hume Kennerly - Getty Images

From Cosmopolitan

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday but not before fundamentally changing the lives of generations of women, minorities, and underserved communities in the United States. Before she even joined the Supreme Court, she cofounded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, where she worked on countless gender discrimination suits and argued six cases in front of the Supreme Court.

Many of the cases she worked on helped expand civil rights law and undo laws that held up sex discrimination—and not just for women. She continued that work when she became a member of SCOTUS, fighting for progressive ideals in so many parts of our society. Here are some of the biggest rights she won for us—all of us—with her rulings on the Supreme Court.

The right to a fair wage

One of her most famous dissents as a Supreme Court justice came in 2007 when Lilly Ledbetter sued her employer, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., for paying her a lower wage than her male counterparts. Goodyear argued she didn’t file the complaint within the allotted time, and although the court ultimately ruled in her employers’ favor, RBG continued to bring attention to the gender wage gap with that scathing dissent. I mean, remember this quote?

The Court does not comprehend or is indifferent to the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.

As Kate McKinnon would say, that’s a Ginsburn. After RBG’s call to action, Congress drafted the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which protects workers from pay discrimination based on age, religion, national origin, race, sex, and disability. It became the first bill President Barack Obama signed when he took office in 2019.

The right to have an abortion

Although RBG got some flack from abortion rights activists early in her career when she said that Roe v. Wade moved too fast in establishing the right to abortion, she proved to be an ardent supporter of women’s rights to have control over their own bodies time and time again when abortion cases came to her bench.

In the 2016 case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, Texas’s Omnibus Abortion Bill (also known as HB 2) attempted to impose super strict restrictions on abortion providers. Ginsburg was one of the majority judges that voted against the bill, naturally.

But we can also never forget this amazing quote, which RBG said during her confirmation hearings in 1993:

This is something central to a woman’s life, to her dignity. It’s a decision that she must make for herself. And when government controls that decision for her, she’s being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.

The right to attend any public university, no matter your gender

In 1996, the Virginia Military Institute was the country’s last all-male public undergraduate university, and in the case United States V. Virginia, the U.S. argued that the gender-based exclusion violated the Equal Protection Clause. When the case reached the Supreme Court, Ginsburg was part of the majority that argued gender equality is a right for all Americans. In her opinion, she wrote:

Generalizations about “the way women are,” estimates of what is appropriate for most women, no longer justify denying opportunity to women whose talent and capacity place them outside the average description.

The right to marry—anyone

The United States legalized same-sex marriages in 2015 with Obergefell v. Hodges and to no one’s shock, RBG was among the justices who advocated for LGBTQ+ rights. RBG remained consistent in her belief that everyone is entitled to marriage, regardless of sexual orientation.

The right for people with mental disabilities to be part of communities

In the 1996 case, Olmstead v. LC, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson fought for the rights of people who live with mental disabilities to live within their communities rather than in institutions. When the case reached the Supreme Court on whether the issue fell under the Americans with Disabilities Act, RBG doubled down that people who suffer from mental disabilities should still be able to be part of society.

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