Academic journal article The American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law

Reed V. Reed at 40: Equal Protection and Women's Rights

Academic journal article The American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law

Reed V. Reed at 40: Equal Protection and Women's Rights

Article excerpt


NINA TOTENBERG: I'm Nina Totenberg, and I'm delighted to be here at this wonderful event celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Reed v. Reed.1 If any of you are in the corridor, please come in. Don't be afraid to sit in the front; that's where the seats are. Actually, at this point, because this is still like class, everybody's afraid to come to the front row. There are so many professors here.

This is really a wonderful event. There are 700 people who are registered for it, and there's another group of Georgetown Law students in an auditorium where this is being broadcasted. And we have every school in the area cosponsoring: American University, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Howard University, and UDC Colleges of Law. They all have their separate names, but I won't go into that. Also, the National Women's Law Center and the Women's Bar Association for the District of Columbia, and I don't think I've leftanybody out. But if I have, I will be reminded of that, I'm sure.

I am old enough that I actually remember Reed v. Reed being argued. I was a novice Supreme Court reporter, brand new on the beat, and I didn't know anything from Shinola, and I was just reading everything I could get my hands on. And I found that, by and large, I really could understand things if I just read all the briefs. But I came across this case, Reed v. Reed, which said that women were covered by the Fourteenth Amendment. And I thought to myself, "Hmm, I thought the Fourteenth Amendment was for freed slaves and for blacks. How does that apply to women?" And I flipped to the front of the brief to see who had written it. It was this Rutgers law professor named Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And I said, "Well, I'm going to call her up."

I called her up and she gave me about an hour-long lecture, the bottom line of which is the Fourteenth Amendment says no person shall be denied equal protection of the law; and as she put it, the last she checked, women were people. [laughter]. And it was the beginning of a long friendship and association, first on the phone and then in person. And p.s., after my late husband died and I remarried, she performed the wedding ceremony. She's definitely a person.

It's my really nice duty to introduce her. She's the right person to be headlining this event since she did write the briefs in Reed. And she will introduce the wonderful man who argued the case, who we're very lucky to have in the audience today. But none of us would probably be here in the jobs that we're in without Ruth Ginsburg. She truly revolutionized the law for women. None of us work in a workplace that bears any resemblance to the workplaces of thirty and forty years ago. I should just mention that Marcia Greenberger, who was going to be on this panel and who is co-head of the Women's Law Center, but [was unable to make it at the last minute].

But I asked her last night, I said, "By the way, who provided the seed money for the Women's Law Center way back when?" I really couldn't remember. And she said, "The Ford Foundation did, and we were part of the Center for Law and Social Policy." And they decided that they would have a Women's Law section of that, and they hired Marcia to do it. Her first job was to ascertain whether there really was enough work for a single lawyer to do, because they assumed that there probably wasn't and that she should do some other things as well. So that's how much life changed over the course of time. So now, let me introduce Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. [applause].

JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG: My role is simply to introduce Reed v. Reed in a nutshell. Sally Reed lived in Boise, Idaho. She was an everyday woman who made her living by caring for people unable to cope for themselves. She had a son. She and her husband were divorced. When the boy reached teen years, the judge thought it was a good idea for him to spend some time with his father to be prepared for a man's world. …

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