A Legend Lost

I never met her.  But I worshipped her from afar.  And she changed my life forever.  She was diminutive in size, but a giant in the legal world.  Ruth Bader Ginsberg (RBG) was the kind of hero who made an impression on everyone (regardless of political party).

She attended Harvard Law at a time when few women were allowed to do so, paving the way for the much more equal gender split found in law schools today.  She taught at a law school at a time when even fewer women were given that opportunity.  She felt firsthand the discrimination against women who bucked against traditional gender roles, and she aimed to change that for all.

As a practicing attorney she fought for men to receive caregiver deductions and widower Social Security benefits—because a woman can be the primary breadwinner in a couple too!  She fought for jury duty to be required of women as well as men—prior to that women were easily able to opt out.  How can a fair jury be seated without having a fair shot at seating women?

On the Supreme Court she helped women earn the right to attend the Virginia Military Institute.  She helped women extend the window of time within which they can file a pay discrimination case to be based on the date the woman learns she learns she is being paid less than her male counterparts rather than the date of hire (because how can she file before she knows of the issue?!).  She also wrote the majority opinion that ruled that mental illness is a disability, and deserving of the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

RBG was pervasive across many legal issues.  But her biggest influence on my life came in the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974.  Prior to this legislation it was very difficult for women to establish credit in their own names because they could be discriminated against based on gender or marital status (or race, or religion, or age).  RBG’s early work as an attorney laid the groundwork for this important law.

I am a middle-aged woman.  I spent my 30’s unmarried.  During that time I opened credit cards.  I purchased cars.  I purchased real estate.  All in my own name, without difficulty.  Since I married in my 40’s, I’ve been able to provide health insurance for my husband through my employer.  And I’ve been able to open credit cards and purchase cars and purchase real estate, without being required to include my husband in the credit process.

I never met her.  But she profoundly affected my life as I know it.  Thank you, Justice Ginsberg.  Your legacy will live on forever.

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