What makes all the difference in a marriage? According to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “support.”
Ginsburg — who, at 86, was married to her husband, Martin, for 56 years before his death — made the comments at a recent Duke Law School panel. Law professor Neil Siegel, the moderator, asked her if the 2018 film “On the Basis of Sex” was accurate in its portrayal of her marriage to Martin — or Marty, as she calls him.
“One thing the film got absolutely right was that I was blessed to be in a marriage to a man who thought my work was at least as important as his,” she replied. Ginsburg added that he cared equally for their children, which was extremely rare at the time. In 1965, married fathers’ time spent on child care averaged 2.6 hours; married mothers’ averaged 10.6 hours.
What’s more, Ginsburg said, when her career was taking off during the women’s rights movement, their lives adjusted and her husband took on a bigger share of the care work:
The event, held Monday in Washington, D.C., was meant to commemorate two milestones for women: the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, and the fact that the editors-in-chief of the top 16 law review journals are all women this year.
For Ginsburg, that second piece was particularly salient. The justice recalled the “ancient days” when she entered law school. That was 1956, she said, and she was one of only nine other women in her class at Harvard Law School; she’d go on to become the first woman member of the Harvard Law Review. Joining a law review — a student-run journal that publishes work by professors, judges and other legal professionals — is seen as one of the most prestigious positions for law students. When Ginsburg transferred to Columbia Law two years later, she joined that law review, too.
So it has been an “enormous change,” she said, to see only women at the helm of the top law reviews in the country.
As the talk went on, it became clear that there have been many changes since Ginsburg got her start in law. When Ginsburg graduated from law school, for example, she had a 4-year-old daughter.
“No one would take a chance on a mother of a 4-year-old” in her day, she said. “Now, it’s not at all unusual for law clerks to be parents. That change has been important.”
Despite difficulties getting hired out of law school, Ginsburg would go on to have an illustrious career, becoming a law professor, advocating for women’s rights and serving on a federal court of appeals. In 1993, she became the second woman ever appointed to the Supreme Court (former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor was the first). She is now one of the oldest to serve on the bench — a point of focus that often makes headlines. Just last month, Ginsburg said that she is “cancer free,” beating the disease for the fourth time.
Ultimately, Monday’s conversation turned to the 19th Amendment, which was ratified 100 years ago. Ginsburg cheered the women who, for “generation after generation,” fought for the right to vote. (Women of color would spend decades longer securing that right in practice.)
And there’s still work to be done for women’s rights, Ginsburg said. Although Virginia recently ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, which was first introduced in 1972, it faces various legal challenges.
For Ginsburg, who has long argued that discrimination based on sex is unconstitutional, it’s crucial that the United States enshrine equality in the Constitution: “I hope I will live to see the day that we will,” she said.