Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to be appointed as a United States Supreme Court justice, died of metastatic pancreatic cancer complications Sept. 18. Ginsburg openly advocated for equal rights and served on the Supreme Court from 1993 until her death.
Before Ginsburg was appointed as a Supreme Court justice, she was the founding director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project in 1972, under which she argued six gender equality cases.
Around this time, 79-year-old former NAU staff member Barbara Sauntry Ashley experienced gender discrimination prior to Ginsburg’s work to ensure equal rights from John Wright, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in 1965.
“My husband and I went to Dean Wright to ask his counsel on the nepotism rule ending my tenure,” Ashley said in an email interview. “He offered no sympathy, empathy or support. Instead he told me to go home and have babies.”
Ashley also clarified that there were several more acts of gender dicrimination that happened on campus. She said she had past disagreements with Chester Ainsworth, Dean of the School of Applied Sciences and Technology in 1965, which is now the College of Engineering, Informatics and Applied Sciences.
She said she was not compensated for her work with Ainsworth. Ashley said gender discrimination played a role in why she received lower pay for her part in teaching two workshop sessions that were centered toward Arizona educators. Due to the work that Ginsburg achieved, Ashley said it is less likely for a similar incident to occur in modern society.
Ginsburg fought for women’s right to equal pay in the 2007 case Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.
Lilly Ledbetter, a former Goodyear supervisor, sued Goodyear for employment discrimination after she had discovered her male counterparts were making thousands more annually. Due to the Civil Rights Act’s 180-day turnaround, the Supreme Court had a 5-4 majority vote, since the incident was not filed in a timely manner.
Ginsburg argued that the 180-day limit should not be considered for this case since gender workplace discrimination can be discrete.
“A worker knows immediately if she is denied a promotion or transfer, if she is fired or refused employment,” Ginsburg said from the bench. “When an employer makes a decision of such open and definitive character, an employee can immediately seek out an explanation and evaluate it for pretext. Compensation disparities, in contrast, are often hidden from sight.”
Ginsburg’s call to action on Ledbetter v. Goodyear motivated Congress to strengthen equal pay protections. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, in which employers are required to guarantee their compensation practices are fair and nondiscriminatory, was later signed into law.
NAU senior Abigail Paternina, president of NAU’s Associated Students for Intersectional Feminism (ASIF), said Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a champion of gender equality.
“Ruth Bader Ginsburg allowed women the right to sign a mortgage without a man, have a bank account without a male cosigner, have a job without being discriminated against based on gender, and the right for women to have kids and work,” Paternina said in an email interview. “This is just to name a few of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s achievements, but the list goes on. Women simply have more rights, freedoms and opportunities thanks to her.”
Justice Ginsburg was vocal about women’s rights and advocated for change when she wrote the majority opinion in U.S. v. Virginia in 1996. Virginia Military Institute (VMI) was a higher education institution that had a male-only admissions policy. In U.S. v. Virginia, the institution’s policy was deemed unconstitutional for violating the 14th Amendment.
After the 7-1 decision, the Supreme Court came to the conclusion that VMI must allow qualified women to be accepted into the institution.
Freshman Jonah Graham said Ginsburg was admired by many for her efforts while appointed in the Supreme Court. He said Justice Ginsburg fought for equality among all people, and used her voice to help those who are oppressed.
“With her most famous cases consisting of Obergefell v. Hodges, Ledbetter v. Goodyear and Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, Ginsburg has done much in her career to provide for those with less government-given authority,” Graham said in an email interview. “These cases prove her accomplishments through debate.”
Ginsburg spent the majority of her life fighting for women’s rights, gender equality and equal pay. She positively impacted both past and present NAU students and faculty with her work done in the Supreme Court. Her actions strengthened equal pay protection and advanced the ongoing advocacy for human rights.