Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Interviewee: Ruth Bader Ginsburg
IWY TX 197
Interviewer: Elaine Paul
Date: June 1977

Sound Recording



Elaine Mayo Paul: Would you tell me your name, address, telephone, that kind of data?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I’m Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I work at Columbia Law School, I’m a Professor of Law. 435 West 116th Street, New York, New York. My home address is 150 East 69th Street, New York, New York.

EP: Alright.

RBG: My office telephone is (212) 280-2036. My home telephone is (212) 988-4267.

EP: And why did you come to this?

RBG: I’m an at-large delegate to this meeting.

EP: From New York?

RBG: From New York, yes.

EP: And what is the issue that concerns you most? Are you a multi-issue person?

RBG: Many issues concern me, but first and foremost is the Equal Rights Amendment because without that everything else is in jeopardy. Without an agreement on fundamental principal, without putting that fundamental principal into our basic instrument of government then measures of implementation, first are very hard to come by, and mean less.

EP: What is the particular group you head up? Don’t you, aren’t you an official ACLU…

RBG: I am one of ACLU’s four general counsel, the national ACLU. And I am founder of ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, which I now serve as counsel.

EP: And what is your thrust there? You are working within the IWY Conference, I see. What else are you doing?

RBG: The ACLU has taken a series of gender discrimination cases to the Supreme Court in an effort to provide some constitutional underpinning for the equality of men and women before the law. Our notion was that the transition to the Equal Rights Amendment would be less abrupt if there were some intervening court decisions that tended in the direction of requiring greater equality of men and women before the law. We began that effort in 1971 and its continuing.

EP: I see. Well what are the cases that you’ve been involved in?

RBG: First one was Reed against Reed which was decided by the Supreme Court in 1971. The ACLU wrote the brief in that case that challenged an Idaho statute that provided, as between men and women, equally entitled to a decedent’s estate, men must be preferred to women. That was the language of the statute, “men must be preferred to women.” We thought if any statute was vulnerable to attack of being completely arbitrary, that one would be and that turned out to be accurate. It was a unanimous opinion declaring the statute unconstitutional. That was the beginning, that was the turning point.

EP: Mmhm.

RBG: And from there we went on to a number of others, with mixed results. We’ve been successful more often than not. But the next case was in 1973, it was Sharron Frontiero case, the ACLU did that in conjunction with the Southern Poverty Law Center. It was a challenge to unequal benefits for military officers. The men received a housing allowance, if they were married automatically and also received free health care for their wives. The women officers received no housing allowance, no free health care for their husbands. (Break in recording at 4:34) …I spoke about the importance of the showing of support from women of all kinds about the Equal Rights Amendment.  Another point that has been made repeatedly and that I feel very deeply about is that most of the women at this conference are intensely pro-family.

One of the most significant things to me when I reflect on what my grandmother’s life was like, what my mother’s life was like, what my children’s lives look like, is that my daughter—who is now in law school—feels that all doors are opened to her.  There are no barriers; there are no constraints; she can be a doctor—if that’s what she wants to be.  And similarly, my son doesn’t feel that he would be called a sissy if he plays with a doll.  The humanity that is in all of us that can come out if this principle is allowed to operate is a very beautiful thing.

EP: And that’s a very beautiful statement.

End of Interview.