On September 24, 1789, the Judiciary Act of 1789 was passed by Congress and signed by President George Washington, establishing the Supreme Court of the United States as a tribunal made up of six justices who were to serve on the court until death or retirement. That day, President Washington nominated John Jay to preside as chief justice, and John Rutledge, William Cushing, John Blair, Robert Harrison and James Wilson to be associate justices. On September 26, all six appointments were confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
The U.S. Supreme Court was established by Article 3 of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution granted the Supreme Court ultimate jurisdiction over all laws, especially those in which their constitutionality was at issue. The high court was also designated to oversee cases concerning treaties of the United States, foreign diplomats, admiralty practice and maritime jurisdiction. On February 1, 1790, the first session of the U.S. Supreme Court was held in New York City’s Royal Exchange Building.
In 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court after a career defined by fighting for women’s rights, gender equality, and other progressive causes. Prior to becoming a judge, she worked as a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union and as its General Counsel from 1973-1980.
Over her years on the bench, she’s been part of some notable rulings.
Below is a list of five that includes:
United States v. Virginia
Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion that ended single-sex admission at the Virginia Military Institute. The school argued that women were not suited to train at the academy or endure its education model.
Furthermore, it argued that its exclusive admissions policy was in line with other educational institutions in the state. It cited Mary Baldwin University, a women’s liberal arts college.
The United States filed a lawsuit against the policy, saying it violated the 14th Amendment, which confers citizenship upon anyone born in the U.S.
“Neither the goal of producing citizen soldiers nor VMI’s implementing methodology is inherently unsuitable to women,” Ginsburg wrote. “Surely that goal is great enough to accommodate women, who today count as citizens in our American democracy equal in stature to men.”
Stenberg v. Carhart
Ginsburg cited Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey to argue that a Nebraska law banning partial birth abortion did not seek to protect the lives of women as it was written. Under the law, doctors could lose their medical license for performing the procedure if done so without regard to the health of the expecting mother.
In 2000, the court struck down the law after finding it violated due process.
“A state regulation that ‘has the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus, violates the Constitution,” Ginsburg wrote. “Such an obstacle exists if the State stops a woman from choosing the procedure her doctor reasonably believes will best protect the woman in [the] exercise of [her] constitutional liberty.”
Bush v. Gore
The court decision to end a manual recount of ballots in Florida to decide the outcome of the 2000 presidential election effectively handed the presidency to George W. Bush. The Bush campaign had filed an application to halt a recount while the campaign for Vice President Al Gore sought to keep it going.
Ginsburg famously wrote “I dissent” in remarks to argue her objection to the decision. The phrase was an apparent departure from the tradition of using the term “respectfully.”
Safford Unified School District v. Redding
The Supreme Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment rights of a 13-year-old girl were violated when Arizona school officials subjected her to a strip search. In 2003, an assistant principal at Safford Middle School in Safford, Ariz., instructed the girl to remove her outer clothing after another student accused her of handing out prescription and over-the-counter medication.
A search of her belongings found nothing.
In her opinion, Ginsburg called the treatment of the girl “abusive” and said it was “not reasonable for him to believe that the law permitted it.”
In an interview with USA Today, she expressed frustration with her male colleagues who minimized the girl’s experience.
“They have never been a 13-year-old girl,” she said. “It’s a very sensitive age for a girl. I didn’t think that my colleagues, some of them, quite understood.”
Ledbetter V. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company
In 2007, the court ruled 5-4 in favor of the tire giant after a female employee claimed she was paid less than her male counterparts. Lilly Ledbetter attributed the pay disparity to her gender, which violates the 1964 Civil Rights Act, she argued.
Goodyear argued that claims of discrimination should be filed within 180 days of the alleged violation, which had not occurred, meaning Ledbetter could only legally claim 180 days of pay discrimination rather than her nearly two decades of her employment with the company.
In her dissenting opinion, Ginsburg highlighted the issue of pay disparity over long periods of time.
“Pay disparities often occur, as they did in Ledbetter’s case, in small increments; cause to suspect that discrimination is at work develops only over time,” she wrote. “Comparative pay information, moreover, is often hidden from the employee’s view. Employers may keep under wraps the pay differentials maintained among supervisors, no less the reasons for those differentials.
“Her initial readiness to give her employer the benefit of the doubt should not preclude her from later challenging the then current and continuing payment of a wage depressed on account of her sex,” she continued.
No matter our personal feelings on politics, the passing of a Supreme Court Justice deserves our attention. The life of Ruth Bader Ginsberg deserves our respect, indiscriminate on how you feel about her decisions or her politics. Being a Judge/Justice subjects you to constant judgement and to be willing to accept that responsibility is valiant. To be humane to another human, does not necessitate that you always agree with their perspective on humanity.