‘Justice is not to be taken by storm. She is to be wooed by slow advances’. (Justice Benjamin Cardozo). This was the quote Ginsburg used many times in her life as she took on some formidable fights with conservative forces both inside and outside the law.
A world recognised icon for gender equality and human rights, United States Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died last week. Ginsburg sat on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1993 when she was appointed by Bill Clinton to the day she died at 87 years of age.
Ruth Ginsburg was considered a liberal thinker, concerned with protecting women’s rights, and of six cases she took to the Supreme Court before she herself became one of the judges of that Court, she won five of the six cases. All cases were to do with establishing a range of constitutional protections against sex discrimination.
Justice Ginsburg has protected voting rights, abortion rights, equal pay rights, and the right of everyone to live with dignity. She inspired many of America’s young women lawyers today to study law as a career, and in so doing she became something of an icon for the millennials.
In 1959 when Justice Ginsburg graduated, she was unable to obtain a position in a law firm, despite graduating top of her class…women were simply not offered positions in law firms. As she said at the time ‘To be a woman, a Jew and a mother to boot was a bit much.’
However, she eventually succeeded in finding a position and from there she was able to progress, dismantling as much of the system as she could, that system of structural discrimination which was levelled mainly at women.
In one particularly famous case in 1972 she managed to persuade the court to recognise the rights of women by first getting them to recognise the rights of men. It succeeded and turned around the attitudes of the judges to women’s rights.
In a biography of Justice Ginsburg, Jane Sherron de Hart was able to describe the clever way Ginsburg could lead the judges to the desired judgement ‘in a way that was comfortable for them’.
In another of her successful judgements she managed to persuade the Supreme Court to agree to recognising same-sex marriage. That was a major win in what is regarded as a conservative country. In the last line of the decision proclaiming that every same-sex couple had the right to marry the judgement said ’They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them the right’.
Justice Ginsburg maintained that there was never enough justice until every system of oppression has been dismantled. The fight was never over.
It would appear that the best way we have of honouring Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s memory is to honour her legacy to fight against injustices whenever and wherever we see them.
Ref: Lucia Osborne and Tarla Lambert : Women Agenda
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