Justice in Aging joins our nation in honoring the life and work of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Throughout her career, Justice Ginsburg demanded equality, fighting against sexism, racism, ageism, ableism, and bigotry. She leaves a legacy that we continue to build on to ensure that everyone in the U.S. has the opportunity to age in dignity and justice.
Starting in 1973 when she co-founded the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, Justice Ginsburg litigated a series of cases that have brought us much closer to true gender equality, reminding us that the Constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws applies to everyone, including women. She effectively advocated for equal rights by humanizing the people, both men and women, behind the legal theory as she challenged sex stereotypes.
In the 1975 U.S. Supreme Court case, Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, she successfully challenged a rule that denied Social Security Survivor’s benefits to a man, assuming that only women who had lost their husbands needed financial support. That case inched forward the legal premise that the equal protection clause applies to both men and women, as well as the notion that “gender discrimination hurts everyone.” It also strengthened the Social Security program, recognizing the need for strong systems to support economic security for us all as we age.
Justice Ginsburg’s work has empowered women’s financial independence, by securing women’s access to home mortgages, car loans, and credit cards. Though historical pay discrimination continues to be a driving force of women aging into poverty, Justice Ginsburg never stopped demanding all women receive equal pay for equal work. In Lily Ledbetter v. Goodyear, she dissented from the majority opinion denying a female worker the right to have her claim for equal pay heard because she had waited too long to bring the case, despite having only recently discovered the pay gap. Justice Ginsburg wrote, “the Court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious ways in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.” She then looked to Congress to fix it, which they rather promptly did by passing the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
Justice Ginsburg authored the 1999 landmark decision, Olmstead v. L.C., upholding the right of people with disabilities of all ages to live, work, and participate in their communities, and rejecting institutional segregation. Because of this decision, older adults have a meaningful opportunity to age in place and with dignity.
Throughout her career culminating with 27 years on the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg modeled aging with dignity as she remained engaged and tireless in the fight for a more just society. May her work and her memory continue to move us forward in our quest for justice.