Picture Ruth Bader Ginsburg standing before the bench of the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices are all male and, with the exception of Thurgood Marshall, all white. Ginsburg is there time after time throughout the 1970s asking them to create a place for women in the Constitution – to consider claims of sex discrimination according to the same standard as claims of race discrimination. She stands erect behind the podium, her feet together. She speaks in a low, yet clearly pitched, voice. She does not gesture. She is completely assured, totally prepared, meticulous in her knowledge of the details of her argument. And she is utterly convincing. When the justices query her, she listens attentively, head slightly bowed. Her answers show she has understood the questions and appreciates their force. She does not shrink from the challenges. She knows this battle will not be won in a day. She is prepared for a long campaign.
Between 1972 and 1980, as counsel to the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, Ginsburg filed briefs in nine of the major sex discrimination cases decided by the Supreme Court and personally argued six of them. In addition, she filed amicus curiae briefs in 15 related cases. Under her leadership, the Women’s Rights Project undertook no less ambitious a task than to change the Supreme Court’s settled interpretation of the equal protection clause – to make sex, like race, a “suspect” classification. While the campaign to change the law has not yet ended, it has made remarkable progress. Ginsburg’s inspired advocacy and creative litigation strategy successfully built the constitutional foundation for our current approach to analyzing the law’s treatment of women and men.
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