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Ruth Bader Ginsburg Scrutinizes Court’s Gender Rulings


Ruth-Bader-GinsburgFriday, September 12, 2014

The 81-year-old, known to her online fans as the Notorious R.B.G., is the oldest member of the court, but she says she’s not planning on going away any time soon. Here are some of her thoughts from a New York women’s health gathering earlier this week.

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reflected earlier this week on issues ranging from abortion rights to young activists to numerous cases including Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision guaranteeing abortion as part of a woman’s right to privacy.

Captivating her audience, she spoke on Sept. 9 for about an hour at the 30th anniversary celebration of the International Women’s Health Coalition, a New York-based organization that promotes and protects the sexual and reproductive rights and health of women and young people globally.

Since joining the Supreme Court in 1993 as the second female justice, Ginsburg has earned a following thanks to her position on various cases, and has also become a bit of an online celebrity. Her scathing 35-page dissent on the recent Hobby Lobby case, which cleared the way for employers to deny insurance coverage of contraceptives to female workers on religious grounds, stirred up admiration from some younger women. One of them created a Tumblr celebrating her as the “Notorious R.B.G.,” a blog that puns on the name of the late rapper Notorious B.I.G. and collects Ginsburg news and tribute items.

The 81-year-old is the oldest member of the court, but she recently said she’s not stepping down any time soon. “All I can say is that I am still here and likely to remain for a while,” she told Yahoo News.

Here are some of her thoughts expressed during the event.

On abortion rights:

“Two cases . . . showed that the court really didn’t get it in Roe v. Wade . . . The case was could a woman get welfare for an abortion, could she get funds from the government just as she could if she chose childbirth, a much more expensive [proposition]. And when the court said the government doesn’t have to provide abortion to poor women, it’s a decision that even today is inexplicable to me. What the court was saying, yes there’s a woman’s right to have an abortion if she can pay for it and if she can’t pay for it she doesn’t have that choice.” (Read the court decision.)

“It’s obvious. A woman’s control of her own body, her choice, whether, when to reproduce, that’s essential to women and it’s most basic to women’s health to have the ability to have access to whatever contraception she chooses.”

On young women and abortion rights:

“It [abortion rights] also requires women to care about it and that’s one of the things that’s of concern. I think of my older daughter who grew up when women’s rights were vibrant and there was a book, “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” But I don’t see the young women today having that same energy, caring as much, and maybe it’s because they know that it’s not going to be a problem for them. It’s again the difference between people who have the resources to get what they want and those who don’t. So the young women may think, not my problem, I can get an abortion if I wanted. And it will always be that way, even in the worst case of Roe v. Wade being overruled. Well there are a number of states that would not change. There were four states that had allowed abortion in the first trimester–New York, California, Alaska, Hawaii–those states and several others will not go back to the way it once was. Again it’s a question of can I have an abortion if I need it? Do you have enough money for a plane ticket or train ticket?

On the Hobby Lobby decision:

“One couldn’t think of a health care package today responding to the needs of people in the community that wouldn’t include contraceptives. So maybe the reaction to Hobby Lobby will get maybe even some of my colleagues to think a little more than they did. When the court goes the wrong way it can be a very effective tool. Think of the Lilly Ledbetter case . . . [After that court decision] Congress in record speed, with overwhelming majorities on both sides of the aisle, passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and Obama signed it as his first act. So sometimes good can come from a bad decision. And maybe Hobby Lobby will turn out that way. I wish I could say that I would look to Congress for a quick fix.”

“The court has stepped into a minefield with that decision . . . One example that I gave, there is a religion, probably more than one, that believes women should not be allowed to work, single women should not be allowed to work without her father’s consent and married women shouldn’t be allowed to work without her husband’s consent. That’s a deeply held religious belief. Does that mean that the woman is no longer protected by Title VII [which protects against employment discrimination on the basis of race and color, national origin, sex and religion] because she wanted a job and she didn’t have [permission]? . . . We will see.” (Read the decision.)

On where we are today on gender discrimination:

“We were amazingly successful in getting rid of the explicit sex lines in the law but that there is more subtle discrimination. One of the biggest problems to overcome is what’s been called unconscious bias . . . Unconscious bias continues to exist, less so than once, but it’s still there. And another problem. I have often said that women will not achieve true equality until men are as concerned as women are with the raising of the next generation.”

Juhie Bhatia is the managing editor of Women’s eNews. Follow her on Twitter @juhiebhatia.


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Super PACs Backing Women in 7 Key Senate Races

One of the beneficiaries is Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is trying to unseat Republican Mitch McConnell. First of a series on money, women and the fight for the Senate.


As Democrats and Republicans wage an intense fight for control of the U.S. Senate in November’s midterm elections, super PACs are concentrating on 10 races that poll as the most competitive because incumbents are in trouble or long-term senators are retiring.

Among these races, seven involve female candidates, which rewrites the usual script about sex and money.

Historically, the high cost of campaigning has prevented many well-qualified women from seeking higher office. But not this year, at least not in these key U.S. Senate bids.

Super PACs–a new form of political action committee that can raise unlimited funds–are hindering women’s political prospects in some ways, as the primaries have already shown this year. But when the PACs get focused on female candidates, as they are here, the tide can also suddenly shift.

Three super PACs in particular are pouring millions into the seven races for the Senate, where women currently hold only 20 seats, one-fifth of the chamber.

In addition to the strategic calculations about weak incumbents and retirements, these races also carry the parties’ hopes for improving their standing with female voters.

During the 2012 presidential election, Republicans lost the female vote by 11 percentage points. During the 2010 midterm election, turnout by female Democrats plummeted, which contributed to the Democrats losing the House and barely retaining control of the Senate.

Republicans need a net gain of six seats among the 36 contests to take control of the Senate for the first time since 2006.

Democrats meanwhile are determined to increase their edge, which is currently 51 Democrats to 47 Republicans, so that they can set the legislative agenda of Congress during the last two years of the Obama administration. (Two independent senators, when counted, add up to 100, the total number of senators.)

The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case of 2010 opened the floodgates to a deluge of money from corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals, notes Bill Addison, editorial director of the Washington-based Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit group that supports accountability and transparency in government.

“Unlike the candidate who must adhere to the donation limits — currently at $2,600 per individual — super PACs can collect unlimited funds,” Addison said in a phone interview. “In some cases, super PACs are collecting more money than the candidates’ own committees.”

Sharon Johnson is a New York-based freelance writer.

Midwestern, Southern Races

As of Aug. 25, outside groups had raised more than $74 million to sway voters in two Midwestern states (Iowa and Michigan) and five Southern states (Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina and West Virginia) where female candidates are jockeying to win these seven close races, found the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign financing.

In the Middle West, GOP super PACs are backing two conservative Republican women–Joni Ernst in Iowa and Terry Lynn Land in Michigan–who are running for seats being vacated by long-term male Democrats.

In the South, Democratic super PACs are supporting centrist Democrats including incumbents Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who both face conservative Republican male challengers. Money is also going to Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who hopes to unseat Republican Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader who is seeking a fifth term.

Democratic PACs are also hoping to break the GOP’s hold on Georgia by electing Michelle Nunn to succeed Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who is retiring after two terms.

In West Virginia, two women–U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, and West Virginia State Secretary Natalie Tennant, a Democrat–are vying for the seat of Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat who is retiring after 30 years.

Since these seven candidates don’t face strong opposition they are not attracting big super PAC funding.Democrats:

  1. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire (incumbent)
  2. Amanda Curtis, Montana
  3. Connie Johnson, Oklahoma
  4. Shenna Bellow, Maine
  5. Joyce Dickerson, South Carolina


  1. Susan Collins, Maine (incumbent)
  2. Monica Wehby, Oregon

“Although super PACs are prohibited from giving money directly to candidates or coordinating how they spend their money with the candidate, they often function as shadow campaigns because they were founded by or are led by party strategists or former aides of the candidate who know how to portray their candidates’ positions in the best possible light,” said the Sunlight Foundation’s Addison.

Ideological super PACs like Women Vote!, a super PAC of Emily’s LIST, which supports pro-choice female Democrats, and NextGen Climate, a new super PAC established by San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, have also aided some of the female candidates in the seven most-heated races.

But among the more than 1,100 groups that the Washington-based Center for Responsible Politics says have set up super PACs, three are waging particular influence in the seven hotly contested Senate races.

Americans for Prosperity

Founded by libertarian activist David Koch in 2004, this group has become one of the largest and most powerful conservative organizations in the United States under the direction of Tim Phillips, a former GOP strategist. Its website reports that the organization, based in Arlington, Va., has more than 2 million activists in 50 states who are dedicated to advancing limited government and free market principles.

Koch and his brother Charles, co-owners of Koch Industries in Wichita, Kan., have been major contributors, but it’s not clear how much the billionaires have donated because the group is a 501copyright (4) organization that is not required to disclose donors. Under IRS rules, tax-exempt organizations are permitted to spend unlimited funds to influence elections so long as politicking is not their primary purpose.

In May, Politico estimated that based on the group’s confidential memo to major donors, the nonprofit will spend more than $125 million to support conservative candidates in 2014. The publication, which focuses on political trends, noted that this amount would be unprecedented for a midterm election and would probably exceed the spending of the Republican and Democratic congressional committees.

Senate Majority PAC

This super PAC was founded in 2011 by Susan McCue, former chief of staff of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, to serve as a foil to GOP strategist Karl Rove’s network of conservative donors. During the 2012 election cycle, it raised more than $42 million to ensure the Democrats’ control of Congress, but it may exceed that total in 2014. As of Aug. 8, it had raised more than $30 million –more than any other super PAC–reported the Center for Responsive Politics.

In addition to labor organizations, such as the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers, it has attracted contributions from some of the Democratic party’s biggest supporters, most of them male billionaires such as Fred Eychaner, chair of Newsweb Corp. of Chicago, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and hedge funder Jim Simons of New York City. Major female contributors included Mary Boies, a New York City lawyer whose well-known attorney husband David Boies also contributed, and Anne Bass, the Fort Worth, Texas, philanthropist.

Women Vote!

Emily’s LIST, the Washington-based organization that funds female Democrats who are pro-choice, set up Women Vote! in 2010 to make independent expenditures in hot races. In 2012, it spent $7.7 million, including $3.5 million to help Rep. Tammy Baldwin win a brutal battle for a Senate seat in Wisconsin.

In March, it established North Carolina Women Vote! to help Sen. Kay Hagan, who faces an uphill fight for a second term, and Georgia Women Vote! to help Michelle Nunn, former CEO of Points of Light, a nonprofit that promotes volunteerism, become the first woman elected from Georgia to serve in the Senate.

So far, the super PAC has spent $4.1 million, but will probably spend more this fall when the campaign heats up.

Its biggest donors include foundations, such as the Akonadi Foundation of Oakland, Calf., which seeks to advance racial justice, and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation of Cambridge, Mass., which advances women’s representation in American politics. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the American Federation of Teachers are other major donors.

(Courtesy of, September 2, 2014)

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