No woman more perfectly encompasses all of the ideals of the feminist movement than Ruth Bader Ginsburg. For 25 years now she’s been on the Supreme Court, winning over the hearts and accolades of liberals world wide. An important author of majority and minority opinions, Ginsburg has cemented herself as an icon for feminists and a role model for young women.
All of this makes her recent comments about Title IX and the #MeToo movement vitally important.
Ginsburg was interviewed by Jeffrey Rosen from the Atlantic, and while many of her answers are unsurprising for someone with her political and judicial history, some are very counter to what you might expect from her. Here’s what she had to say about due process.
ROSEN: What about due process for the accused?
GINSBURG: Well, that must not be ignored and it goes beyond sexual harassment. The person who is accused has a right to defend herself or himself, and we certainly should not lose sight of that. Recognizing that these are complaints that should be heard. There’s been criticism of some college codes of conduct for not giving the accused person a fair opportunity to be heard, and that’s one of the basic tenets of our system, as you know, everyone deserves a fair hearing.
ROSEN: Are some of those criticisms of the college codes valid?
GINSBURG: Do I think they are? Yes.
So, even a long time, central feminist scholar and judge agrees that these movements can get out of hand, and that colleges are depriving some people of due process in the way they’re handling sexual assault allegations on campus. This contrasts so starkly with mainline feminist thought, and it should serve as a wakeup call for people on both sides of the aisle. It’s time to stop accusing people and having those accusations run unchecked, ruining lives and reputations, without a chance to have the actual facts come to light and justice be done.
It’s impossible to deny that Ginsburg has led an impressive life, and as far as feminist cred goes hers is undeniable. She is the second woman to even be confirmed on the Supreme Court, and her public service extends far beyond her long tenure there. A child of Jewish immigrants, Ginsburg’s mother died when she was in high school, and she went to Harvard as a married mother in a time when few women attended Ivy League schools.
She graduated from Columbia Law school at the top of her class, and from there went on to teach future generations of lawyers. Her specific areas of specialization included women’s rights and gender issues, and she spent the 1970s working with the ALCU, where she was the cofounder of the Women’s Rights Project. She was the first tenured woman at Columbia Law School. In 1980, President Carter appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and she stayed there until she joined the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court that Ginsburg thinks should eventually be made up of all women: “Now the perception is, yes, women are here to stay. And when I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court], and I say ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.””
Gloria Steinem described Ginsburg as “the closest thing to a superhero I know.”
President Clinton, in his remarks and rationale for appointing Ginsburg, said: “Many admirers of her work say that she is to the women’s movement what former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was to the movement for the rights of African-Americans. I can think of no greater compliment to bestow on an American lawyer.”
All of this is to deal with potential pushback, that Ginsburg doesn’t know what’s at stake with feminism, or is out of touch because of age. Neither of these are true, and Ginsburg knows exactly where feminism seeks to lead people, to a place where men and women are equal in all things. “Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation,” she said in a 2001 interview.
Few women are better poised to really understand the history of the movement and also be a vital part of shaping its present form and future, and that’s why Ginsburg’s feelings on Title IX and #MeToo matter so much.
The current Title IX system is part of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, and reads in part: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
The original goal of the Amendment was to ensure that men and women had equal access to educational opportunities, something that Ginsburg herself has passionately fought for her whole career. Title IX, however, has in recent years been used to remove students from universities after rape accusations. The removal process at schools has come under fire for violating due process, and when these cases have come before the courts, courts have started overturning suspensions and allowing lawsuits to proceed. The shift from Title IX being about educational access to campus rape happened after an administration letter was sent out to college campuses in 2011, and this letter changed the burden of proof needed by campus officials. Critics of the policies post-2011 point out that standards now require a “preponderance of evidence,” or 50.01 percent of guilt instead of the more stringent requirements a criminal trial would require.
Ginsburg’s words are a common sense breath of fresh air to a process that has become increasingly politicized and divisive. No victim of sexual assault should fear reporting the crime, and no crime should be tried in the court of public opinion instead of the court of law. We have a strong judicial system in this country for a reason, and as an important part of our historical checks and balances it’s important that we allow the process to work instead of circumventing it and treating people unequally. On this, we can agree with Ginsburg. Men and women should be equal before the law, and it’s vitally important that we treat them equally in our courts.