WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH – Reflections of those who paved the way
By Barbara M. Zoccola, Esq.
As women, we take it for granted that we have many things we do in everyday life are rights that we could not do a few decades ago. We can apply for credit cards and mortgages without needing a man to co-sign with us. We can be executors of an estate, serve on juries, apply to state colleges, keep our jobs when pregnant.
While there were many women along the way who helped us gain these rights, one woman stands out as leading the charge for these rights: The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsberg. We truly lost a national treasure when she passed away late last year. I will admit that I am a Ruth Bader Ginsberg aficionado. I have an RBG t-shirt, face masks, action figure, books, etc. But the reason why I am an RBG aficionado is because she is THE beacon of light for women’s rights.
Before she was Justice Ginsberg, lawyer Ginsberg argued many cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. She won Struck v. Secretary of Defense in 1972 which excluded pregnant women from serving in the U.S. Air Force. The Plaintiff Susan Struck was a Lieutenant in the Air Force when she became pregnant. Her choices were to have an abortion or to resign from the Air Force. The U.S. Supreme Court sided with Struck and said that it is sex discrimination to force pregnant women to make this choice when they were not forcing the fathers to make the same choice.
Ginsberg co-founded the Women’s Rights Project and through her work at the project, she argued and won the Frontiero v. Richardson, a 1973 case before the U.S. Supreme Court that forced the U.S. military to provide a dependent’s allowance for spouses of all military personnel instead of just to wives.
She also helped to get Congress to pass the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974 which allowed women to apply for credit cards and mortgages without needing a man to co-sign the application with her.
Also, in 1974, she argued and won Kahn v. Shevin before the U.S. Supreme Court that held that the $500 property tax exemption would be for widowers and not just for widows.
In 1975, Ginsberg won Weinberger v. Weisenfeld so that widowers as well as widows would receive social security benefits from their deceased spouse’s earnings. Similar to Weinberger, she won Califano v. Goldfarb in 1976, where the Supreme Court held that social security survivor benefits were to be given to surviving husbands as well as wives.
Ginsberg argued and won that women should be required to serve on juries and not have jury service be optional for women and required for men in Duren v. Missouri in 1979.
When she became a Supreme Court Justice, she became an even more powerful tool in the fight for equal rights for all. In 1996, Ginsberg wrote the majority opinion in U.S. v. Virginia, where the Court rules that it is unconstitutional for schools funded by taxpayers (in this case, Virginia Military Academy) to bar women paving the way for women to be admitted to all taxpayer funded schools.
Even her voice as a dissenting opinion helped women. In Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire in 2007, Ginsberg’s blasting dissent caused Congress to strengthen equal pay protections.
As we reflect on Women’s History this month, we be grateful for the lifetime of work that Ruth Bader Ginsberg contributed to help all of us. May her memory be blessing.