Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a mortal superhero for ending legal discrimination against women, but she also paved the way for expanded legal rights for many Americans. Her fierce intellect, legendary discipline and compassion reflected in her service to our country should be honored by each of us continuing her fight for equal rights and constitutional protections as basic as our right to vote.
As a citizen, I grieve for Ginsburg because I fear that her death could mark erosion of the legal strides she effected based on a future composition of the U.S. Supreme Court. As a woman, I feel Ginsburg’s death intimately. She was my mentor, friend and role model even though we never met. She fearlessly championed for all women by basing her decisions on what is right, what is important and what would help close the gap at long last in equal rights for women.
As legal scholars have noted, RBG won five landmark cases before the U.S. Supreme Court that relied on the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to end centuries of blatant discrimination against women. She spoke for many women wanting to end condescending special treatment: “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”
Idaho has a special contribution to Ginsburg’s first landmark case. In Reed v. Reed, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 1971 that an Idaho statute requiring that “males must be preferred to females” as administrators of an estate was unconstitutional. Sally Reed of Boise sued to administer her deceased son’s estate. The Supreme Court ruled for the first time, based on Ginsburg’s brilliant argument, that distinctions “solely on the basis of sex” violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
In 1996, with Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court, in United States v. Virginia Military Academy women finally attained equal rights under the law. Writing for the majority, Ginsburg stated any law that “denies to women, simply because they are women, full citizenship stature — equal opportunity to aspire, achieve, participate in and contribute to society” — violates the equal protection clause.
Based on Ginsburg’s landmark cases, equal rights have been established for other marginalized people and specifically the LGBTQ community by overturning laws making gay sex a crime, guaranteeing marriage equality and, just this year, banning employment discrimination against LGBTQ workers.
In one of her most trenchant dissents, Ginsburg lambasted the court’s majority for shortsightedness in rolling back the 1965 Voting Rights Act to allow states to change voting procedures with no outside oversight, which she analogized “is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
We must continue Ginsburg’s work. Only passion, heart, and iron will matching Ginsburg’s own will keep advancing equal rights and prevent the erosion of the victories she led and further erosion of voting rights. During this election year amid threats of voter suppression, ensure that you register to vote, vote early and that you vote country and Idaho — not party — first.