"Fight for the things you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” ~ Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
The Arizona Women Lawyers Association’s core mission is to promote and encourage the success of women lawyers. Perhaps no single individual has done more to enable the pursuit of that mission than Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Ginsburg’s story of persistence and resilience in the face of discrimination resonates with almost every woman lawyer. As one of only nine women in a class of 500 entering students at Harvard Law School in 1956, she reportedly was confronted by the law school’s dean and asked why she was there, “taking the place of a man.” After transferring to Columbia Law School because her husband’s job took the family to New York City, she graduated tied for #1 in her class but nonetheless was rejected for a clerkship with the U.S. Supreme Court because she was a woman. When she entered legal academia in 1963 as one of fewer than 20 female law professors, she was told she would be paid less than her male peers because she was a woman married to a man who earned a good living.
As a lawyer, Ginsburg fought to break down the barriers she had faced, creating a clearer path for women lawyers to come. She charted and executed an incremental litigation strategy to dismantle sex-based legal obstacles; many--including her colleague and friend, Justice Antonin Scalia, and her former dean and professor Erwin Griswold--would describe her as the leading litigator for women’s rights and the “Thurgood Marshall of that cause.” Her assault on differential treatment benefited men as well as women, and she often represented male plaintiffs negatively impacted by gender stereotypes encoded in our laws: a widower denied survivor’s benefits, a service member’s husband given a lesser housing allotment, a man refused caregiver benefits.
In pursuing this battle, Ginsburg acknowledged those who fought before and beside her. Although Pauli Murray—the Black genderqueer co-founder of the National Organization of Women and leading civil-rights activist—drafted no portion of the brief in Reed v. Reed, one of the first Supreme Court cases striking down a gender-based law under equal protection, Ginsburg nonetheless credited Murray as a co-author, acknowledging the influence of Murray’s legal theories and arguments on those advanced in the brief.
And, of course, as the second female justice on the United States Supreme Court—and the first Jewish female justice—Ginsburg became a singular role model and inspiration to generations of young women.
As lawyers of any sex or gender, we took an oath to fight for the rights and interests of others and to guard the integrity of the rule of law and our legal institutions. As we mourn the loss of one who did so much to further the causes at the core of the AWLA mission, and as we acknowledge those who fought before and alongside her to forge the path we have the privilege of following, may we draw energy from her example and renewed commitment to preserve and further her legacy of dismantling sex- and gender-based barriers for all.