The 8 Ruth Bader Ginsburg Court Rulings You Should Know About

Carolyn Twersky
·7 mins read

From Seventeen

On Friday, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg passed away at the age of 87 after battling pancreatic cancer. The lawyer, activist, and icon left behind an incredible legacy, which includes a 27-year tenure on the Supreme Court. While there, she heard many important cases that have helped shape America into the country it is today. So, in honor of RBG's legacy, let's take a look back at 8 of the most important cases that passed Justice Ginsberg's desk as she sat on the highest court in the land.

United States v. Virginia, 1996

It was Ginsburg who wrote the Court's opinion on United States v. Virginia, which ruled that the Virginia Military Institution's male-only admission policy was in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

VMI suggested a "parallel program for women" to be called Viginia Women's Institute for Leadership at to be held at nearby Mary Baldwin College, but Ginsburg wasn't impressed by this. She felt the compromise was insufficient and would not provide the women with the same education, training, or post-graduation benefits as the men. As such, the Court voted 7-1 in favor of the United States, creating a very important precedent for future sex discrimination cases.

Bush v. Gore, 2000

Justice Ginsburg garnered a lot of attention for her dissenting opinion in this case, which ultimately decided the outcome of the 2000 election. While the Court ultimately sided with Bush on the ruling, Ginsburg wrote, "I dissent," leaving out the traditional, "respectively" found in similar Court opinions.

Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, 2007

Another important case for women's rights was Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. Lilly Ledbetter, a 19-year employee of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, sued her employer when she found out she was getting paid less that her male colleagues. Ledbetter alleged that this was in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but Goodyear pointed out that any such discrimination complaint needs to be filed within 18- days of the violation, and she was almost two decades late on that.

Because of this, the Court voted 5-4 in favor of Goodyear. Once again, Ginsburg dissented, writing, "The Court’s insistence on immediate contest overlooks common characteristics of pay discrimination. Pay disparities often occur, as they did in Ledbetter’s case, in small increments; cause to suspect that discrimination is at work develops over time. Comparative pay information, moreover, is often hidden from the employee’s view."

Ginsburg later rewrote her opinion, so it was easier to understand, and read it from the Supreme Court bench, asking Congress to amend Title VII, which they eventually did. Then, in 2009, when President Barack Obama took office, the first bill he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which prohibits sex-based wage discrimination.

Shelby County v. Holder, 2013

In a case that is all too relevant given the upcoming 2020 election, Justice Ginsberg vehemently dissented against the Court's decision that partially dismantled the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

In 1965, the act was created as a response to voting discrimination. Section 4(b) and 5 of the act stated that certain counties in America must get any changes to election laws and procedures approved by the Attorney General or a three-judge panel of a Washington D.C. court. Shelby County, Alabama, one one of the districts affected by this section, filed suit, calling the section unconstitutional.

Well, Shelby County won the opinion of the Court 5-4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr saying the section is outdated and "it would have been irrational for Congress to distinguish between states in such a fundamental way based on 40-year old data when today's statistics tell an entirely different story."

Ginsburg wrote the dissenting opinion, saying that "Voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that" and the Court's decision "terminates the remedy that proved to be best suited to block that discrimination."

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, 2014

The Green family, which owns the popular chain of craft stores, Hobby Lobby, challenged the requirement under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that employment-based group health care plans must provide their employees with certain preventative care, like contraceptive. As a religious family who runs their business around the principals of Christianity, the Greens sued Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, claiming the contraception requirement violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. They wanted relief from the tax penalties associated with denying such preventative care.

The Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby. In her dissent, Ginsburg wrote that the decision would "deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage that the ACA would otherwise secure." She also noted that "the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage," and now it will be on women to pay the sometimes exorbitant price to "safeguard their health."

Obergefell v. Hodges, 2015

Before Ginsburg was even on the bench, she brought seven sex discrimination cases to the Supreme Court, with some even featuring male plaintiffs. She used those, and her 1996 United States v. Virginia opinion to prove that the government could not treat men and women differently based on their gender.

So, when same-sex couples sued their states for their bans on same-sex marriage, it was argued that discriminating against gay men and women was a form of sex discrimination. It was with the help of the precedents and Justice Ginsburg's long history as an LGBTQ advocate that the Supreme Court sided with Obergefell 5-4, guaranteeing same-sex couples the right to marry.

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, 2016

In 2013, Texas Legislature passed a bill known as H.B. 2, which put restrictions and strict requirements on abortion providers. A group of abortion providers sued, claiming the bill "denied equal protection, unlawfully delegated lawmaking authority, and constituted arbitrary and unreasonable state action."

The Court sided with the abortion providers in a 5-3 vote, with Justice Stephen G. Breyer stating that the requirements laid out in the Texas bill posed "a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions, and constitutes an 'undue burden' on their constitutional right to do so."

In her concurring opinion of the decision, Justice Ginsburg wrote that "when a State severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners." She continued, saying, "laws like H.B. 2 that do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion, cannot survive judicial inspection."

Sessions v. Dimaya, 2018

The first time Justice Ginsburg ever got to assign the majority opinion for the Supreme Court was in this case that proved the deportation of certain non-citizens to be unconstitutional.

James Garcia Dimaya became a "lawful permanent resident" of the US in 1993, but when he was convicted of first-degree burglary, he risked expulsion from the country since under the Immigration and Nationality Act, "a non-citizen convicted of an aggravated felony is subject to deportation."

But, the Court voted 5-4, saying the INA's "crime of violence" provision was "unconstitutionally vague" and in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, marking a big win for immigrant rights and creating a strong precedent for future cases.

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