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Is There a Feminist in the Court?

When she enrolled as one of eight women in the Harvard Law School in 1956, Ruth Bader Ginsburg-wife and mother-was not a feminist, even when the dean of the law school asked the new women students how they felt about filling a slot in the class that was supposed to be for men. Like many of her generation, it was working in the field of law, as a volunteer for the ACLU in the 1960s, that “raised her consciousness” as a feminist (Markowitz 1994). Ginsburg assumed leadership of the national ACLU WRP in 1971, just in time to make the winning argument in Reed v. Reed. As head of the WRP, she helped build a body of precedent giving the individual the right to equal treatment by government, regardless of sex. Ginsburg led or participated in all the major equal protection cases of the 1970s: Frontiero v. Richardson (1973); Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld (1975); Edwards v. Healy 421 US 772 (1975) (a companion case to Taylor v. Louisiana [1975]). Her brief in Craig v. Boren (1976) was the source of the assertion by Justice Brennan that the court’s test in sex discrimination cases constituted “heightened scrutiny.”