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Agent of Impact: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

ImpactAlpha, Sept. 25 – The advantages of women’s participation and leadership in business and society have become conventional wisdom. That’s in no small part to Ginsburg’s decades of work to undo two centuries of legal obstacles. There could be no “gender alpha” without legal advances championed by Ginsburg (women-led businesses are hard to start when you can’t open a bank account without a male co-signer). At the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project in the 70s, Ginsburg won Supreme Court cases that nudged the country toward equal rights. As a Justice, she voted to legalize same-sex marriage, uphold racial affirmative action, and recognize the rights of LGBT and people with disabilities. “The concept of ‘We the People’ has expanded” over two sometimes turbulent centuries, she said. Once-excluded African Americans, women, men without property, and Native Americans “are now part of our political constituency,” she said. “We are certainly a more perfect union as a result of that.”

Ginsburg lost fights, too. But her dissents over more than a quarter-century on the bench defined her as much as her successes. She became famous for her “dissent collar” – the Fearless Girl statue on Wall Street was fitted with a frilly collar this week in her honor. “Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition,” she wrote for the minority when the Court allowed key parts of the Voting Rights Act to expire in 2013. Several southern states quickly redrew districts, purged voter rolls and set up strict voter identification laws, moves that will suppress voting in November’s U.S. election. Like her careful strategy for building the case for women’s rights, Ginbsurg’s objections had an aim. “The greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view,” she told NPR in 2002. “I will not live to see what becomes of them,” added the justice, who died last week at the age of 87. “But I remain hopeful.”

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