Remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg

On Valentine’s Day 1979, while still a professor at Columbia University, Ruth Bader Ginsburg discussed the Equal Rights Amendment in a “Sexual Equality Under the Fourteenth and Equal Rights Amendment” presentation to Washington University’s School of Law. This audio excerpt is taken from a panel discussion she participated in during that visit to campus.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18, 2020, visited Washington University in St. Louis twice during her career in 1979 and 2001. She met with students and faculty, lectured and even contributed journal articles to the Washington University Law Quarterly (1979) and Washington University Journal of Law & Policy (2001).

Below, faculty from the School of Law reflect on her long and influential career.

Susan Appleton, the Lemma Barkeloo & Phoebe Couzins Professor of Law. Appleton met Ginsburg several times. She was present for both lectures on campus and once even enjoyed dinner with her and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor during a Washington, D.C., birthday celebration for Judge William Webster, JD ’49.

Susan Appleton

“Prior to Ginsburg’s advocacy, the Supreme Court had never applied the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution to the sex- or gender-based classifications that had long pervaded law, to the detriment of women and men alike. Ginsburg developed a powerful theory to bring that constitutional guarantee to bear on such discrimination. Simply summarized, Ginsburg’s theory makes it impermissible for the state to differentiate between men and women based on stereotypes or generalized assumptions about their roles and abilities. This theory emerges explicitly in Ginsburg’s legal scholarship, in the briefs and arguments that she presented to courts as an advocate for the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, and later in her opinions as a Justice of the Supreme Court.

“Ginsburg’s anti-stereotyping theory has proven to be compelling and versatile. It not only paved the way for formal gender equality, it also has brought us closer to substantive gender equality. In addition, it has played a key part in successful challenges to discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, age and disability.”

Dan Epps, associate professor of law


“In the long term, Justice Ginsburg will have a legacy somewhat like Justice Thurgood Marshall’s. Both will be remembered for their contributions as trailblazing lawyers (Marshall for African American rights, Ginsburg for women’s rights) as much as for their distinguished service as Supreme Court justices. Her work as a litigator on behalf of gender equality profoundly shaped the law and American society. And her own personal story — overcoming tremendous gender discrimination and ultimately achieving a seat on the highest court in the land — will serve as an inspiration to all Americans. In the shorter term, however, Justice Ginsburg’s legacy will be colored by her refusal to leave the court during the Obama presidency. Her insistence on staying on the court into her late 80s, despite her serious health problems, could very well have seriously negative consequences for the values she fought for during her legal and judicial career.”

Lee Epstein, the Ethan A.H. Shepley Distinguished University Professor. Epstein attended Ginsburg’s 2001 address at the university.


“RBG isn’t called notorious for nothing. As a lawyer, she worked to upend vast swaths of law by convincing judges to eliminate gender lines. As a justice, she continued to champion human rights and other progressive causes but her court legacy is different. She wasn’t so much an effective disrupter of law as she was a defender of left-leaning legal regimes — a challenging role on a court dominated by conservative-Republican justices.”

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