Marci Hamilton, the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice and Fels Institute of Government instructor, considers herself fortunate to have been a clerk for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. With the passing of Justice Ginsberg last week, Hamilton reflected on the first two female Supreme Court Judges, what obstacles they surmounted, and what potential dangers lie ahead with the appointment of a new justice.
“These two pioneers at the Court came with a legacy of being discriminated against in the legal world, because they were female. They went to sterling law schools, were high achievers, and essentially had been told to stand aside for the men to do the real legal work. Thank God neither one listened, or actually cared that others underestimated them. They simply moved forward,” Hamilton notes. And they were able to bring their male counterparts with them.
Hamilton remembers Justice O’Connor as “super smart, determined, and, frankly, no time for nonsense.” She says that despite the burdens of being the first—and, at the time, only—female justice, she fulfilled her obligations in the Court and beyond. O’Connor was invited to events worldwide to represent the country, and at home, her status as the swing vote made her the most powerful member of the Court.
O’Connor “set an example for girls and women everywhere,” but her gender wasn’t her focus. For Ginsberg, it was a driving force behind her entire career, which made her appointment all the more significant. O’Connor was thrilled to finally have another justice who saw things through a woman’s perspective, and their similar views on issues like women’s employment and abortion rights helped further those causes with groundbreaking success.
Without Justice O’Connor or Ginsberg, the legal door is open for movements within the government to dismantle abortion and contraceptive rights for women in the US. Hamilton notes that even though research shows that the majority of Americans embrace these rights, the current administration’s rush to replace Ginsberg is a threat to be taken seriously.
Read Hamilton’s full article “Reflections on Our First Two Female Supreme Court Justices” at Verdict.com.
Image Credit: "O'Connor & Ginsberg Detail, The Four Justices | National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution" by Tatiana12 is licensed under CC BY 2.0