Yesterday, I sat watching the Inauguration while I put the finishing stitches into my memorial to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In fact, I was tying the final knot as President Biden walked away from the podium after his speech. Seems fitting.
At 65″ long, this quilt is slightly taller than Justice Ginsburg was herself, but the words that I wanted to include of hers could not be contained in a shorter quilt. Quilted in black thread behind the signature collar are the following words from Justice Ginsburg’s oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in Sharron A. Frontiero and Joseph Frontiero, Appellants v. Elliot L. Richardson, Secretary of Defense, et al., argued January 17, 1973. She said:
There can be no doubt that our Nation has had a long and unfortunate history of sex discrimination. Traditionally, such discrimination was rationalized by an attitude of ‘romantic paternalism’ which, in practical effect, put women, not on a pedestal, but in a cage . . .
. . . As a result of notions such as these, our statute books gradually became laden with gross, stereotyped distinctions between the sexes and, indeed, throughout much of the 19th century the position of women in our society was, in many respects, comparable to that of blacks under the pre-Civil War slave codes. Neither slaves nor women could hold office, serve on juries, or bring suit in their own names, and married women traditionally were denied the legal capacity to hold or convey property or to serve as legal guardians of their own children . . . And although blacks were guaranteed the right to vote in 1870, women were denied even that right – which is itself ‘preservative of other basic civil and political rights’ – until adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment half a century later.
It is true, of course, that the position of women in America has improved markedly in recent decades. Nevertheless, it can hardly be doubted that, in part because of the high visibility of the sex characteristic, women still face pervasive, although at times, more subtle, discrimination in our educational institutions, in the job market and, perhaps most conspicuously, in the political arena. . .
. . . With these considerations in mind, we can only conclude that classifications based upon sex, like classifications based upon race, alienage, or national origin, are inherently suspect, and must therefore be subjected to strict judicial scrutiny. Applying the analysis mandated by that stricter standard of review, it is clear that the statutory scheme now before us is constitutionally invalid.
May you rest in peace, Justice Ginsburg. I am deeply grateful for all that you did to advance the rights of women, but I wish you were still with us making good trouble.