In a New York Times article by Adam Liptak, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is shown comparing differences in the court’s rulings on gay rights cases with those involving gender. The gay rights rulings are replete with soaring language about “equal dignity” and endorse values of “liberty and equality,” while those dealing with gender issues seem to indicate that the court has not fully embraced, in her words, “the ability of women to decide for themselves what their destiny will be.” She noted, Liptak writes, that “the court’s five-justice conservative majority, all men, did not understand the challenges women face in achieving authentic equality.”
Those challenges are ones that have dogged the 81-year-old Ginsburg her entire life, from attending Harvard Law School as one of nine women in a class of more than 500 to graduating from Columbia Law School and being denied jobs with law firms or judicial clerkships because she was a woman. As a professor at Rutgers School of Law she was informed her pay would be less than her male colleagues because her husband, also a lawyer, had a good job.
Before becoming a judge, Ginsburg was a prominent women’s rights attorney, and yet, on the Supreme Court, Liptak writes, she “has suggested that her male colleagues sometimes do not hear a woman’s voice, including her own. In a 2009 interview with USA Today, she said the other justices, who were then all men, sometimes ignored the arguments she made at their private conferences.” She would say something but it would not be focused on until someone else said the same thing.
It’s been a lot less lonely for the justice now with the addition of Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, but their inclusion has not kept the court from delivering devastating setbacks in cases involving equal pay, medical leave, abortion and contraception, culminating, as the Times article points out, “in a furious dissent last month from the court’s three female members.”
Some liberals are urging Justice Ginsburg to retire so President Obama can appoint her replacement before his term ends, thus assuring that a liberal voice will not be lost. But the justice says she has no intention of doing so as long as her health and intellect remain strong. And good for her. It’s supposed to be a lifetime appointment after all, so quit trying to push her out. Instead, perhaps those people should direct their efforts toward assuring that the one who will be doing the appointing shares the same philosophy. Imagine what a liberal majority could accomplish.