Thursday, April 19, 2007

For Justice Ginsburg, It's Personal

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the majority ruling "alarming" in yesterday's case upholding a federal statute that makes the "partial-birth" abortion procedure illegal, Gonzales v. Carnhart. She took the unusual step of delivering an oral summary of her dissent, which Linda Greenhouse writes, "she read from the bench at a slow pace that caused every syllable to resonate."

Justice Ginsburg objected vehemently that “this way of thinking reflects ancient notions of women’s place in the family and under the Constitution — ideas that have long since been discredited.”

She cited century-old Supreme Court cases that upheld a paternalistic view of women’s place in society and contrasted those with more recent cases, including one she successfully argued to the court in 1977 and one in which she wrote the majority opinion in 1996, that rejected “archaic and overbroad generalizations” and assumptions about women’s inherent dependency.
Marty Lederman had it right when he said that she found the majority opinion "an attack on her entire life’s work.”

Justice Ginsburg, of course, was one of the lawyers in the ACLU Women's Rights Project who brought the cases establishing women's basic constitutional rights, not so long ago. That she believes much work remains to be done is apparent in her revealing recent introduction to Jill Norgren's biography of Belva Lockwood.

Justice Ginsburg's full dissent, and the majority opinion, are here (pdf). The full text of her remarks in court yesterday are at Legal Times. More resources are here.