September 19, 2020
We received the sad news that Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday. Ginsburg had been battling various forms of cancer since 1999 (pancreatic, lung, colon, and finally liver). She had continued to serve as a Supreme Court Justice throughout and had vowed to stay on the court “as long as I can do the job full steam. Full Steam seems to be the way she lived her entire life. She is known as the nations’ preeminent litigator for women’s rights, a federal appeals circuit court judge and a Supreme Court Justice for 27 years. As a Justice she became the leader of the liberal bloc against an increasingly conservative majority.
Interestingly, Ginsburg’s first big case was to defend a Colorado man against the IRS to allow him to take a tax deduction for his 86-year-old mother he was caring for. The IRS held the statute only applied to women or divorced or widowed men. Ginsburg won in the lower courts asking not to invalidate the statue, but to apply it equally to both sexes. The government then took the case to the Supreme Court where she won again. This resulted in an examination of the constitutionality of hundreds of similar federal statutes.
Ginsburg’s career continued to revolve around the interpretation of the 14th Amendment applying not just to Blacks and minorities, but also to women. The male, establishment minded judges found her case often taken from how men were not receiving the same consideration as women. She was appointed to the Supreme Court by Bill Clinton in 1993. Her life story has been featured in books, movies, an opera, and numerous Saturday Night Live parodies. Perhaps the most informing reference to her impact was being called The Notorious RBG, a play on rapper The Notorious BIG.
THOUGHTS: While Ginsburg’s goal was to further the equal treatment of women, it was often litigated from a male perspective. Ginsburg knew she needed to appeal to the viewpoint of the patriarchal judges she was arguing before. Her ultimate claim was that decisions of law and justice should never be decided on “the basis of sex.” We can learn much from Ginsburg’s approach toward litigation. You need to listen and understand the viewpoint of another. You need to relate their understanding to something you have in common. And only then do you broaden the conversation by asking them to consider another perspective. This is what made Ginsburg “Notorious.” Change is coming and it starts with you.