Gender Equality and the Law
One of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s primary goals of the Women’s Rights Project’s litigation was to prove that stereotypical treatment of gender under the law was unconstitutional. It was Ginsburg’s goal to make the Court realize that “the law’s differential treatment of men and women, rationalized as reflecting “natural” differences between the sexes, historically had tended to contribute to women’s subordination” (Ginsburg 11). Ginsburg carefully selected cases which she felt would produce the greatest results. To do this, she “pursue(d) a series of cases that illuminate(d) the most common instances of gender distinctions in the law (Ginsburg 14). In three cases, Reed v. Reed, Frontiero v. Richardson, and Craig v. Boren, Ginsburg was successful in arguing that legal distinctions on the basis of sex qualified as suspect classifications. Therefore the state must show a compelling interest in its legislation, and “must demonstrate that the means are necessarily related to the ends sought to be achieved by the statue and are the least restrictive” (Mezey 16). Today, it is debatable whether women are equal to men in the eyes of the law. However, without the Women’s Rights Project’s litigation of the nineteen seventies, women would be remain subjected to stereotypical legal treatment and thus would still be regulated to an inferior status of citizenship.
The first case in which the Supreme Court invalidated a law which discriminated on the basis of sex became extremely important because it set the president to which many future opinions would refer. Reed v. Reed, 1971, Ginsburg argued that Sally Reed was denied equal protection which should have been protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, when her husband was awarded the estate of their deceased son “because of the Idaho law compelling a preference for the man when there was a choice between an equally qualified man and woman” (Mezey 17). The state said that the statute was designed to reduce the workload of its lower level courts and to prevent the possibility of intra-family fights. The United States Supreme Court reversed the judgement made by the Idaho Supreme Court, and stated in the opinion written by Chief Justice Burger, “to give mandatory preference to members of either sex over members of the other, merely to accomplish the elimination of hearings on the merits, is to make the very kind of arbitrary legislative choice forbidden by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment” (Goldstein 114). Ginsburg won the case because she proved that the state’s “distinctions, defended solely on the ground of administrative convenience,” were unconstitutional (Ginsburg 15). Without citing any previous cases in their opinion, the Court showed it was trying to move into a new realm of sex discrimination law.
In Frontiero v. Richardson 1973, the Court “built upon the Reed decision,” and used the same rationale in their opinion. (Mezey 18). The Court ruled that any...