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FACT SHEET: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the ACLU
For IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 14, 1993
While working with the national office of the American Civil
Liberties Union in the 1970's, Ruth Bader Ginsburg developed a
path-breaking legal strategy for advocating gender equality under law.
This strategy involved bringing precedent-setting challenges to laws
that treated men and women differently on the basis of sex. The goal
throughout the approximately 20 cases that Ginsburg guided while with the
ACLU was to bring the legal standards against sex-based discrimination to
the point where they mirrored as closely as possible those used to prevent
Ginsburg worked with the ACLU from 1971 through 1980. She first
joined the union as the founding director of the ACLU's national Women's
Rights Project and then joined the national Board and served as a General
Counsel. Throughout the decade, her work with the ACLU was done on a
volunteer basis; she was never a paid employee of the ACLU.
In the decade after Reed v. Reed, the ACLU case that first found a
law unconstitutional because it discriminated against women, Ginsburg and
the ACLU's national Women's Rights Project succeeded in establishing
heightened constitutional scrutiny over gender-based classifications
embedded in federal, state and local laws, thereby consigning to the junk
heap of history many sexually discriminatory laws and practices.
Following is a list of the key cases that Judge Ginsburg worked on
while with the ACLU:
> Reed v. Reed (1971). Ginsburg authored the ACLU brief in a case
challenging an Idaho law that instructed probate judges to automatically
name male relatives as administrators of estates even when there were
equally qualified female relatives. This case became the first in which
the Supreme Court held a gender-based law unconstitutional under the equal
protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
> Frontiero v. Richardson (1973). Through special leave of the
Supreme Court, Ginsburg argued as a friend of the court the ACLU position
that the military could not provide automatic benefits to servicemen while
requiring women in the service to prove that they contributed the
overwhelming majority of the family's financial support to receive the
same benefits. The Supreme Court held that married women serving in the
military were entitled to the same benefits as men, but failed by one vote
to place sex-based discrimination on the same level of race-based
> In several cases involving Social Security benefits, Ginsburg
successfully challenged a series of laws that assumed that all families
were supported by men and accorded government benefits on that basis,
thereby discriminating against women workers who the ACLU argued were
entitled to benefits on the same basis for their families. These cases
included Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld (1975) and Califano v. Goldfarb (1977).
> In another series of cases, Ginsburg challenged various state laws
that effectively served to keep women off juries. In its decisions, the
Supreme Court ruled that a jury "of one's peers" must include women under
the Sixth Amendment's rights to a impartial jury. These cases included
Edwards v. Healy (1975), which was the companion case to Taylor v.
Louisiana, and Duren v. Missouri (1979).
> Craig v. Boren (1976). Ginsburg filed an influential ACLU
friend-of-the-court brief that led the Court to overturn an Oklahoma law
that treated men and women differently with respect to legal drinking
ages. In this case, the Supreme Court announced its landmark decision to
grant sex-based discrimination so-called "middle tier" or "heightened"
scrutiny for the first time, thereby placing it on a level close to -- but
not equal to -- race discrimination.
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