/Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburgs top opinions and dissents, from VMI to Voting Rights Act

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburgs top opinions and dissents, from VMI to Voting Rights Act


Richard Wolf
 
| USA TODAY

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has died at age 87

Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died at age 87. Ginsburg is most noted for her lifelong fight for equality for women.

WASHINGTON – Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday at the age of 87, surrounded by her family.

Only the second woman to serve on the nation’s highest court, she dressed for decisions and dissents. She had a special collar, or jabot, for announcing majority opinions from the bench and another for her frequent, and more celebrated, dissents.

Throughout her career, Ginsburg’s diminutive presence belied her titanic influence on the law, first as the nation’s preeminent litigator for women’s rights, and more recently as the leader of the high court’s liberal bloc, where she served as a bulwark against an increasingly conservative majority.

Here’s a look at some of her memorable opinions:

Decisions

United States v. Virginia (1996): Struck down Virginia Military Institute’s male-only admissions policy as a violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The vote was 7-1, with Associate Justice Antonin Scalia dissenting. 

Ginsburg described as “presumptively invalid … a law or official policy that denies to women, simply because they are women, equal opportunity to aspire, achieve, participate in, and contribute to society, based upon what they can do.”

Olmstead v. L.C. (1999): Ruled 6-3 that individuals with mental disabilities have the right to community-based housing under the Americans with Disabilities Act, provided that states have sufficient resources and treatment professionals say it’s appropriate.

“Institutional placement of persons who can handle and benefit from community settings perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life.”

Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw Environmental Services (2000): By a 7-2 vote, gave South Carolina residents standing to seek penalties for industrial pollution without having to prove injury, and even though the factory in question had closed. 

“A would-be polluter may or may not be dissuaded by the existence of a remedy on the books, but a defendant once hit in its pocketbook will surely think twice before polluting again.”

Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (2015): Ruled 5-4 that states can try to remove partisan politics from the process of drawing political maps by creating commissions that take power away from elected legislators. 

“Arizona voters sought to restore the core principle that voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around. The elections clause, we affirm, does not hinder that endeavor.”

Timbs v. Indiana (2019): Ruled unanimously that states cannot impose excessive fees, fines and forfeitures as criminal penalties. The decision made clear that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against excessive fines applies to states and localities as well as the federal government. 

“The protection against excessive fines guards against abuses of government’s punitive or criminal law-enforcement authority. This safeguard, we hold, is ‘fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty.'”

Dissents

Bush v. Gore (2000): Ginsburg and her three liberal colleagues each dissented from the court’s 5-4 decision halting the presidential recount ordered by Florida’s Supreme Court. The majority ruled that no better method of counting votes could be established within the necessary timetable.

“The court’s conclusion that a constitutionally adequate recount is impractical is a prophecy the court’s own judgment will not allow to be tested. Such an untested prophecy should not decide the presidency of the United States.”

Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007): Ginsburg wrote the dissent in the 5-4 case, which denied Lilly Ledbetter the right to sue her employer for gender-based pay discrimination because of the length of time that had passed since the violation.

“Our precedent suggests, and lower courts have overwhelmingly held, that the unlawful practice is the current payment of salaries infected by gender-based (or race-based) discrimination – a practice that occurs whenever a paycheck delivers less to a woman than to a similarly situated man.”

Gonzales v. Carhart (2007): Ginsburg wrote the dissent in the 5-4 case, which upheld a 2003 law passed by Congress outlawing a form of late-term abortion. The majority ruled that it was not an undue burden on abortion rights.

“The act, and the court’s defense of it, cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this court – and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women’s lives.”

Shelby County v. Holder (2013): Perhaps Ginsburg’s most famous dissent criticized Chief Justice John Roberts’ 5-4 ruling that struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act, freeing mostly southern states from having to clear voting changes with the federal government.

“Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores (2014): Ginsburg wrote the dissent in the 5-4 case, which determined that family-owned and other closely held companies cannot be forced to offer insurance coverage for certain birth control methods they equate with abortion.

“Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be perceived as favoring one religion over another, the very risk the Establishment Clause was designed to preclude. The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”