Ruth Bader Ginsburg
When Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked what amendment she would most like to see added to the U.S. Constitution, she replied, “it would be the Equal Rights Amendment. I think we have achieved that through legislation, but legislation can be repealed, it can be altered,” she continued. “So I would like my granddaughters, when they pick up the Constitution, to see that notion — that women and men are persons of equal stature — I’d like them to see that that is a basic principle of our society.”
Although more than 80% of countries gender equality in their constitutions, including, as Ginsburg noted “every constitution written since he Second World War” — the period during which most of the world’s constitutions were written — the world’s oldest written constitution does not include this protection. In effect since 1789, t U.S. Constitution was written during a period when gender equality was far from being animportant societal value. Over time, the US has passed many laws protecting women’s rights but, as Ginsburg observes, “Legislation can be repealed. It can be altered… That principle belongs in our Constitution.” The U.S. Constitution is exceedingly difficult to amend, however the ERA was nearly added to the Constitution forty years ago. The Amendment, which was originally drafted by suffragist Alice Paul in 1923, was approved by both houses of Congress and endorsed by then President Richard Nixon in 1972. It then went to the states for approval, but ultimately only received 35 of the 38 state ratifications needed to become a Constitutional Amendment. Today, there is renewed interested in an Equal Rights Amendment, which, according to Ginsburg, would recognize that “women are people equal in stature before the law.” Many older women’s rights activists observe that young people are often shocked to learn that the Constitution does not guarantee equal rights for women; in fact, one survey found that 72% of adults incorrectly believed that the Constitution included such a gender equality guarantee. Whether Justice Ginsburg will see the passage of the ERA in her lifetime is uncertain but she says it’s an essential part of ensuring women’s equal protection, observing that a “prime part of the history of our Constitution is the story of the extension of constitutional rights to people once ignored or excluded.”
After a decade of litigation, educators Michelle (Jaureguito) Henley and Laurel Wartluft have successfully settled their cases against Feather River Community College in California. A third LAF-supported plaintiff, Paul Thein, is continuing to pursue the law suit. All three filed whistleblower lawsuits in 2006 against Feather River. They alleged that the college violated Title IX by retaliating against them for complaining about sex discrimination, among other claims. All three cases were eventually referred to California’s State Personnel Board. In August 2009, a California State Personnel Board judge issued a decision in favor of all three plaintiffs, ordering their reinstatement and awarding them back pay and damages. Feather River appealed the judge’s decision. After a lengthy appeal, the full State Personnel Board upheld the judge’s 2009 decision in the plaintiffs’ favor. Their cases highlighted Title IX’s important role in protecting faculty and staff who advocate for gender equity.
The American Association of University Women (AAUW) joins the nation in mourning the passing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Our sincere condolences go out to his family and friends, including his fellow justices with whom he has helped shape the course of American jurisprudence for nearly 30 years.
The Supreme Court has pending cases that will greatly affect the everyday lives of women and their families, and Justice Scalia’s untimely death creates a vacancy at a critical juncture. It is in the face of losing such a legal giant that we remember how fortunate we are, as a nation, to have a constitutional process to see us smoothly through this transition.
AAUW is hopeful that our elected leaders will rise above the partisan fray and simply do what the Constitution requires: President Barack Obama and the U.S. Senate must move forward to fairly and expeditiously select and consider a nominee. In so doing, the American people will be reassured that a fully staffed court will be available to deliver this year’s critical Supreme Court decisions.
The Honorable Judge Sunshine Sykes is the first Native American to be appointed as a Superior Court Judge in Riverside County. She subsequently got elected to that office. That is quite a feat for someone raised on a Navajo Reservation. She fortunately had a family of strong women to support her. Judge Sykes gave a very inspiring speech to a large and totally attentive audience on Friday, February 12 at the Mayor’s Ceremonial Room in City Hall.
In January 2016, the plaintiffs in the LAF-supported case Moshak v. University of Tennessee successfully settled their Title IX lawsuit against the university. As part of the settlement, the university will pay more than $1 million.
Jennifer Moshak, Heather Mason, and Collin Schlosser are former employees of the University of Tennessee’s women’s athletic department. In 2012, they filed suit against the university, alleging sex discrimination and unlawful retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The plaintiffs claim they were unlawfully discriminated against and eventually forced out of their positions during a university-led merger of the men’s and women’s athletic departments