On Sept. 18, the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a champion of gender justice and equity, died at age 87 from complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer. Only the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States, Justice Ginsburg’s precedent-setting career changed how women were treated in the workplace. Her legal fights challenged and defeated hundreds of state and federal laws restricting the autonomy of women. Her clear-eyed vision of gender equity, where the matter of sex would not be a determining factor in a person’s right to live a full life, has been an inspiration to Equal Rights Advocates leaders, past and present.
Below is a statement from Noreen Farrell, Executive Director of Equal Rights Advocates:
“We are devastated by the loss of Justice Ginsburg. But in our grief, we are profoundly grateful. Justice Ginsburg set the stage for and stood with Equal Rights Advocates on the most valiant of fights. In 2009, I appeared before Justice Ginsburg and the U.S. Supreme Court in a pregnancy discrimination case called Hulteen v. ATT, challenging the company’s refusal to credit pregnancy leaves as it did other kinds of disability leaves for the purposes of calculating retirement benefits. The Hulteen case echoed Equal Rights Advocates’ very first case before the Supreme, in 1974, argued by ERA co-founder Wendy Williams — Geduldig v. Aiello — challenging the exclusion of pregnancy from disability insurance programs.
I remember the image of Justice Ginsburg as the sole woman on the Court during the Hulteen argument. That image was a powerful reminder of why the law to date had not ensured gender equality; representation matters. (There will be enough women on the Supreme Court “when there are nine,” Justice Ginsburg said.) I thank Justice Ginsburg for her powerful Hulteen dissent in which she said that the Court was allowing the employer to pay women “for the rest of their lives, lower pension benefits than colleagues who worked for AT&T no longer than they did.” Justice Ginsburg also recognized that in passing the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Congress intended to bar disadvantageous treatment of pregnancy for all employment purposes, including pensions — an intent completely undermined by the majority’s opinion.
Justice Ginsburg had the law right then, and she has stood with the right side of the law for decades. She has been our Notorious RBG idol, an inspiration, a decisive voice for gender equity. Her revolutionary push to apply our laws equally to all people, irrespective of gender, is deeply embedded in our DNA as social justice lawyers. That clarity of vision, that certainty that gender should not be a barrier to work, benefits, education, or civil service has been our lodestar as an organization for 46 years.
Justice Ginsburg’s legacy is that of a warrior and quintessential role model. She has been where so many women have been. She experienced the disappointment felt by women shut out of certain schools and the workforce because of gender stereotypes about motherhood and family obligations. She understood the struggle felt by male primary caregivers who need benefits, regardless of their sex. She felt the pressure of working mothers to hide their pregnancies so they could stay employed. The fact that she brought her lived experience to the nation’s highest court changed the face of the law forever.
We are part of her legacy today. Equal Rights Advocates co-founder Wendy Willians went on to be Justice Ginsburg’s biographer. Equal Rights Advocates continues to partner with the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU (founded by Justice Ginsburg, and later led by my dear friend Lenora Lapidus) because there are still more battles to be won, more dragons of inequity to be slain. With each lawsuit we file on behalf of those fighting gender discrimination at work or school, we continue Justice Ginsburg’s legacy of bold, passionate dissents that have shaped the contours of gender rights for the past twenty years.
We mourn her passing. We mourn this loss that is so devastating across generations, who saw in our own ambitions a glimmer of Justice Ginsburgs’ brilliance. But in the midst of this pain, we also celebrate all that she did for women everywhere. She did so much, for so long. She has earned this rest.
May her memory be a light for generations of feminists to come.”
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