Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away September 18 at the age of 87, leaving behind more than a quarter-century legacy as an associate justice on the Supreme Court. “The Notorious RBG” as she was often referred to, became well known for her scathing dissents, and will be regarded as a champion of gender equality. Ginsburg’s tenacity has taken center stage in several landmark cases over the years, some more controversial than others. With that said, here are just three of the most critical cases she has participated in:
UNITED STATES V. VIRGINIA, 1996
Only a mere three years after Ginsburg joined the court, the United States filed a suit against the Virginia Military Institute, arguing that the gender-exclusive admissions policy violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. The state of Virginia argued that not only women weren’t properly suited for the VMI’s rigorous training, but also that the state’s creation of a separate military program at the women’s-only liberal arts school, Mary Baldwin University, was equal. The court disagreed and struck down VMI’s all-male admissions policy, with Ginsburg writing the majority opinion making it clear that gender equality is a constitutional right.
LEDBETTER V. GOODYEAR TIRE & RUBBER CO., 2007
It’s obvious most of Ginsburg’s blistering dissents came from cases involving gender discrimination and civil rights. One of RBG’s most famous dissents came in the case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, decided in 2007. Lilly Ledbetter sued her employer of 19 years, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, for gender discrimination, after she discovered the company had been paying her less than her male counterparts. Ledbetter argued the pay disparity was due to her gender and a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She won the case in federal court in 2003, but Goodyear countered that the same clause required discrimination complaints to be filed within 180 days of the violation. In 2007, the Supreme Court upheld a 5–4 reversal of the federal court decision, ruling that because Ledbetter’s claim was made after a 180-day charging period, she could not sue her employer under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Ginsburg wrote the dissenting opinion, pointing out the fact that Ledbetter couldn’t have filed her complaint sooner because she didn’t know she was being discriminated against.
OBERGEFELL V. HODGES, 2015
This landmark case granted same-sex couples the right to marry in all 50 states. As a former officiant of same-sex weddings and an advocate for LGBTQ rights, it is believed that Ginsburg’s outspokenness affected public opinion. During oral arguments, she called out the regressive attitudes of John Bursch, the lawyer representing states who wished to uphold a same-sex marriage ban, as well as Justices John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy, who wondered whether the Court could overturn marital tradition. Ultimately, the court ruled 5-4 in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage.
Other Notable Cases:
- OLMSTEAD V. LC, 1999
- BUSH V. GORE, 2000
- SAFFORD UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT V. REDDING, 2009
- SHELBY COUNTY V. HOLDER, 2013
- BURWELL v. HOBBY LOBBY STORES, INC 2014
- WHOLE WOMAN’S HEALTH V. HELLERSTEDT, 2016
- SESSIONS V. DIMAYA, 2018
Who should we do next?