Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Case that Got Away
by Lori Andrews
Last weekend at Yale, a panel of law professors told mesmerizing stories of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's work as an advocate and as a Justice. The five speakers gave detailed analyses of various briefs and opinions she'd written and how those materials had created a legal foundation for gender equality. But there was a surprising guest in the audience. Sitting in the first row was the Justice herself. And after each of the speeches, Justice Ginsburg stood and told the law professors what they gotten right or wrong, or provided some backstory to the cases they'd discussed. It was like that scene with Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall!
It was especially interesting to hear from her about the case that got away. In 1971, before Roe v. Wade (the landmark abortion case) reached the U.S. Supreme Court, Ginsburg was litigating what for her was the perfect reproductive choice case. A woman in the Air Force, Captain Susan Struck, had gotten pregnant and the Air Force told her she was required to get an abortion or give up her job.
Then, Justice Ginsburg told the audience at Yale, Struck said, "There is something. I've always wanted to be a pilot, but they won't let women in flight training school."
She and Ginsburg had fallen silent. It was a pipe dream in 1971. There was no way that they were getting women into flight school then.
Now women soar and there are three women on the Supreme Court. Yet a woman was recently dismissed from the Air Force for deciding to become a single mom. We've come a long way, baby…but still not far enough.