In her work, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg embodied the four words inscribed on the entrance to the United States Supreme Court: Equal Justice Under Law.
Ginsburg grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. and after graduating first in her class from Columbia Law School, successfully argued five gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court. When she died at age 87 on Sept. 18, after serving for 27 years on the United States Supreme Court, both women and men mourned her passing.
She designed a legal strategy that directly challenged long-standing gender stereotypes to fight sex discrimination. She referred to the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution “equal protection under the law” as the basis for much of her litigation.
Ginsburg taught at Rutgers University Law School and at Columbia University where she became the school’s first female tenured professor and also served as the director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union leading its Women’s Rights Project from the group’s founding in 1972 until she joined the federal bench in 1980.
Early in her career, one of the five cases she won before the Supreme Court involved a portion of the Social Security Act that favored women over men because it granted certain benefits to widows but not widowers. The 1975 case Weinberger vs. Weisenfeld held that the different treatment of men and women unjustifiably discriminated against female wage earners by affording them less protection for their survivors than is provided to male employees.
In 1999, Olmstead vs. L.C. Rights of People with Disabilities, Ginsburg stated that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, people must be placed in community settings rather than institutions based on the advice of health professionals. That gave people the right to be released from state hospitals and allowed to live in the community.
Here in Rim Country, an example of how her work influenced clients is the Southwest Behavioral and Health Services community based residential settings for persons with mental disabilities. Here people can be in a less restrictive environment.
Carol Waymire, a retired attorney who now lives in Payson, worked in Los Angeles as a hearing officer for the Superior Court. She recalls, “I conducted semi-formal hearings in psychiatric hospitals to decide if the doctor met the legal standard to continue the patient on a 14-day hold following the 72-hour hold. If not, the patient had to be released or allowed to stay voluntarily.”
She shared Ginsburg’s ideas about legal rights of people with mental disabilities.
We have all benefited from Ginsburg’s beliefs that the law must be gender-blind and that entitlement of equal rights belongs to all groups.
There will be a March for Women and their Allies to honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her legacy and to continue her fight for justice at 9:30 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 17 at the corner of State Route 87/260 in Payson.