Sisters in law: Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg

sisters in law

This is a great history of the relationship between two very wealthy and powerful women who ended up on the Supreme Court both of whom had powerful husbands who supported their careers through what is, clearly, a legal mafia of rich friends and acquaintances. Both deserved to be on the Supreme Court, but they both got there by dint of class privilege (and, obviously, white privilege). I did raise an eyebrow at Ginsburg hiring only clerks who she knew via her family and friends networks. It’s not exactly a level playing field in hiring practises if you only hire people you came across either socially or through the legal version of AT&T friends and family plans. This is not to dismiss their accomplishments or their activism in legislation that supports women, but recognising that even The Notorious RBG isn’t quite as radical as rap videos suggest.

I was also surprised by the frequency in which the XIV Amendment to the constitution was invoked as the Holy Grail for recognising that sex discrimination was equal to racial discrimination. Clearly they should both be recognised under the Amendment. However, the Supreme Court’s judgments over the past few decades have eroded the supposed protections under the XIV Amendment making it nearly impossible for individuals experiencing racial discrimination to use the courts for legal redress.*  Expanding the legal protections of the XIV Amendment is only helpful if those legal protections actually exist.

Ginsburg’s recent Dissenting Opinions have become the stuff of legend and are worthy of that status. O’Connor’s interesting voting patterns are equally fascinating. This is a history of feminism in action but also a story on how class and racial privilege can mitigate sex discrimination.

*Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, (The New Press, 2012).

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