ACLU History: A Decade of Landmarks for Women
Ginsburg's first case on behalf of the ACLU heard by the Supreme Court, Reed v. Reed, challenged an Idaho statute that automatically gave preference to men for appointment as administrator of a deceased person's estate. In this 1971 landmark ruling, the Supreme Court for the first time held that a law categorically providing for differential treatment of men and women violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. The next term, in Frontiero v. Richardson, the Court invalidated an Air Force policy providing automatic dependents' benefits to wives of service members but requiring proof of 'actual dependency' for husbands of female service members seeking benefits.
Ginsburg continued to win cases challenging policies that were based on assumptions about men's and women's different roles in the family. Her cases demonstrated how gender discrimination itself was the problem and that a victim could be male or female; using men in the dependent spouse category as plaintiffs was an effective way to challenge prevailing gender stereotypes.
Throughout the 1970s, Ginsburg and her growing legal team successfully challenged laws that treated women as second-class citizens. Laws were rewritten and newly interpreted, so as to establish women's right to full equality with men at work, in the home, and in every sphere of life. Ginsburg's work, and that of other feminist lawyers during this decade, resulted in extraordinary changes in women's legal status in the United States.