Ruth Bader Ginsburg has handed down some notable opinions during her 27 years as an associate justice of the Supreme Court.
Here are some of her most influential rulings:
United States v. Virginia (1996)
Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion as the Supreme Court struck down Virginia Military Institutes male-only admission policy. The court’s 7-1 ruling said VMI violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, CNBC reported. The state of Virginia had argued that allowing women to attend VMI would lower the quality of the experience at the academy and would force the school to abandon its adversarial education style. The petitioners argued that women applying to VMI would not require special treatment, and that women expected to be held to the same standards as male students.
“Women seeking and fit for a VMI quality education cannot be offered anything less, under the State’s obligation to afford them genuinely equal protection,” Ginsburg wrote. “The constitutional violation in this case is the categorical exclusion of women from an extraordinary educational opportunity afforded men."
United States v. O’Hagan (1997)
The court ruled that insider trading laws apply to people who have confidential information, even if they do not have any connection to the company whose shares were being bought, The New York Times reported. Ginsburg, writing the majority opinion, ruled that "a person who trades in securities for personal profit, using confidential information misappropriated in breach of a fiduciary duty to the source of the information” can be found guilty of violating Securities and Exchange Commission rules.
The ruling reinstated the conviction of James H. O’Hagan, a lawyer who made $4.3 million trading securities of the Pillsbury Company after his law firm was hired to represent Grand Metropolitan, the company that was planning a hostile takeover of Pillsbury.
Olmstead v. L.C. (1999)
Ginsburg wrote that states under the Americans for Disabilities Act "are required to place persons with mental disabilities in community settings rather than in institutions when the State’s treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate, the transfer from institutional care to a less restrictive setting is not opposed by the affected individual, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the State and the needs of others with mental disabilities.”
L. C. and E. W. were characterized as “mentally retarded women.” L.C. was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and E. W. was diagnosed with a personality disorder. Both women were voluntarily admitted to Georgia Regional Hospital in Atlanta and were confined for treatment in a psychiatric unit. Although their treatment professionals eventually decided that each of the women could be cared for in a community-based program, the women remained institutionalized at the hospital. L.C. filed suit against petitioner state officials, alleging the state failed to place her in a community-based program once her treating professionals determined that such placement was appropriate.
Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw Environmental Services (2000)
Writing in the majority, Ginsburg ruled that residents in the area of the North Tyger River in South Carolina could sue Laidlaw based on the argument that its pollution prevented them from using the waterway for recreation.
The ruling reversed an appeals court decision. Ginsburg wrote that the appellate court “erred in concluding that a citizen suitor’s claim for civil penalties must be dismissed as moot when the defendant, albeit after commencement of the litigation, has come into compliance.”
Some of Ginsburg’s memorable writings were her dissenting opinions.
Gonzales v. Carhart (2007)
The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4decision to uphold Congress' Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, which outlawed a late-term abortion procedure, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. In her dissent, Ginsburg wrote that the majority ruling “tolerates, indeed applauds, federal intervention to ban nationwide a procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.”
“In candor, the Act, and the Court’s defense of it, cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this Court -- and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women’s lives,” Ginsburg wrote.
Ginsburg also wrote that the court "deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety. This way of thinking reflects ancient notions about women’s place in the family and under the Constitution — ideas that have long since been discredited.”
Ledbetter v. Goodyear (2007)
Ginsburg was among the four justices who dissented in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. The justice read her dissent from the bench, CNBC reported. The majority ruled against Lilly Ledbetter, who claimed she received unequal pay because of her sex. As an area manager, Ledbetter was paid $3,727 per month, compared with $4,286 for the lowest-paid male counterpart.
The majority did not consider the merits of Ledbetter’s claim, made under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. They rejected the claim on the grounds that it was filed too long from the time the original decision was made about her pay.
Ginsburg, in her dissent, said that, “In our view, the court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination. “The ball is in Congress' court ... to correct this Court’s parsimonious reading of Title VII.”
Two years later, Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which said each discriminatory paycheck resets the 180-day limit to file a claim. Ginsburg kept a framed copy of the law on the wall in her chambers, CNBC reported.
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014)
In another 5-4 ruling, the court recognized a for-profit corporation’s claim of religious belief. Hobby Lobby, owned by the Evangelical Green family, challenged an Affordable Care Act mandate that employers cover the cost of certain contraceptives for their female employees. Justices ruled the mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
In her dissent, Ginsburg said: “Until this litigation, no decision of this Court recognized a for-profit corporation’s qualification for a religious exemption from a generally applicable law, whether under the Free Exercise Clause or RFRA. The absence of such precedent is just what one would expect, for the exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities. ... Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be ‘perceived as favoring one religion over another,’ the very ‘risk the Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.’ The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”
Bush v. Gore (2000)
The outcome of the 2000 presidential election between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore was handed to the Supreme Court after voter discrepancies in Florida. The court, in a 5-4 decision, stopped a vote recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court.
″The extraordinary setting of this case has obscured the ordinary principle that dictates its proper resolution: federal courts defer to state high courts' interpretations of their state’s own law. This principle reflects the core of federalism, on which all agree," Ginsburg wrote in her dissent. ″Were the other members of this court as mindful as they generally are of our system of dual sovereignty, they would affirm the judgment of the Florida Supreme Court.″