Ruth Bader Ginsburg realized that an all white panel of older male judges understood men. She also knew that gender discrimination against anyone constrained what they could do and be.
So, to eliminate discrimination against women, she was happy to defend men.
As a young attorney, Ruth Bader Ginsburg convinced the Supreme Court that the husband of an Air Force officer should get the same housing and health benefits that wives received. She proved that a widower with an infant deserved the Social Security checks his deceased wife would have gotten had the situation been reversed. She even wanted to be sure that Louisiana stopped letting women avoid jury duty.
You can see her goal. Each case could display the demeaning impact of gender discrimination.
Perhaps though this beer case said it all.
A Beer Case
Oklahoma used to have a law that said an 18-year old woman could buy beer but the men had to be 21. Calling the law discriminatory, a man named Curtis Craig and the woman who owned the Honk n’ Holler took the state to court. The key issue? The 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
The Honk n’ Holler was a drive-thru that sold beer, other drinks, some food. Located near Oklahoma State University, its clientele included many young girls who bought the beer their boyfriends needed for fraternity parties, homecoming, and other college events. The case got started when an “under 21” college student decided to protest. He hired a lawyer and got the store’s female proprietor to join him. In 1976, they wound up in the Supreme Court. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of their attorneys.
The clever part of her strategy is somewhat obvious when you look at who was a Supreme Court Justice in 1976. Because the court was composed of nine men, Ginsburg knew she had to select a case with facts that connected to their sex. They might not entirely grasp that protecting a woman’s femininity was discrimination. But buying beer was male discrimination they could get.
The Supreme Court in 1976:
The Craig v. Boren Decision
The Court concluded that Oklahoma violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Striking down the Oklahoma law, the decision raised the standard that could permit gender discrimination. Instead of having to pass a “rational basis” test, the criteria would be “intermediate scrutiny.” Because of Craig v. Boren it would be tougher to differentiate men and women.
Our Bottom Line: Production Possibilities Graphs
Taking a bit of a leap into economic territory, I believe a production possibilities graph illustrates what RBG did for all of us.
On a production possibilities graph, the line shows the maximum that land, labor, and capital can produce. Meanwhile, the dot represents a specific point in time. Below, the dot shows we are not producing our maximum because of gender discrimination:
Yes, Justice Ginsburg moved the dot to the right.
This is the trailer from the CNN documentary:
My sources and more: My facts and some text for the beer case came from econlife. From there, there are so many possibilities. I recommend the CNN documentary on Justice Ginsburg (3/15/1933-9/18/2020) and this NY Times obituary from Linda Greenhouse.
Please note that this post was sightly edited after publication. I had mistakenly labeled the Supreme Court images 1776 rather than 1976.