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Featured Image: Photograph of Ruth Bader Ginsberg receiving a standing ovation from members of the U.S. Senate. Source.]
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a cultural icon. Her reach as a US Supreme Court Justice, however, transcended the borders of the United States, as she was known as a symbol of feminism all over the world. She was a woman who truly managed it all; a successful legal career, a loving relationship with her husband and the raising of her children. By doing all of this, she set an example for girls and women of the future: one does not need to choose between family and career, love and professional excellence. Nevertheless, she was also vocal about how this was possible only due to the support of her husband, who was a partner in the full sense of the word. Leaving all of this aside, this article will focus on Ginsburg’s memorable majority opinion in the case of United States v. Virginia.
United States v. Virginia (1996) is a case where the question as to whether the Virginia Military Institute’s (VMI) creation of a women’s only academy satisfied the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. To provide some context, the VMI had a long tradition as Virginia’s only exclusively male public undergraduate higher learning institution, which led the US to bring suit against Virginia and VMI with the claim that the admissions policy of only accepting male applicants was unconstitutional (given that according to them, this violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause). Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion in this case, stating that the Court held that VMI’s male-only admissions policy was unconstitutional because it failed to show “exceedingly persuasive justification” for it’s gender-biased admissions policy. Virginia was held to have violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause.
The decision had further implications given that it effectively struck down any law, which as Ginsburg stated: “denies to women, simply because they are women, full citizenship stature – equal opportunity to aspire, achieve, participate in and contribute to society.” Her announcement of the Court’s opinion is often viewed as an address to the American public due to its forceful summary of the opinion and its clear language.
One could argue this decision probably hit close to home for Ginsburg. While she was able to attend university, other female students granted such an opportunity were rare, and even if such an opportunity was granted, these women would be faced with discrimination both in class and in the workplace upon graduation. At Harvard, Ginsburg was one of eight female students in a class of 500. Even so, women were viewed as inferior by the Dean of the Law School as he thought they took the place of qualified males. Nevertheless, Ginsburg continued on her journey and started her fight for gender equality early. In the end, her remarkable perseverance and incredible intelligence were what led her to become the second female justice in the history of the US Supreme Court.