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Black, Queer, Feminist, Erased from History: Meet the Most Important Legal Scholar You’ve Likely Never Heard of

Pauli Murray (AP Photo)
Pauli Murray (AP Photo)

Brittney Cooper, SALON

 
(Salon.com)—Ruth Bader Ginsburg has emerged as the liberal hero of a hopelessly right-wing Supreme Court, a ram in the bush for those of us who look on in horror as the court presides over the dismantling of key pieces of legislation like the Voting Rights Act, anti-discrimination law and affirmative action policy, which have been so critical to African-American advancement since the 1960s.

In a recent interview at Georgetown University, Ginsburg reflected on the history behind one of her key legal accomplishments, the 1971 case of Reed v. Reed. After an estranged couple lost their son, his mother, Sally Reed, petitioned to administer his estate. But Idaho law maintained that “males must be preferred to females,” in such matters. Ginsburg authored the plaintiff’s brief for the case when it reached the Supreme Court, arguing that the 14th amendment protected against discrimination based upon sex. When the court ruled in Sally Reed’s favor, it was the first time that the Equal Protection Clause had been applied to a case of sex discrimination.

But much of the legal groundwork for that argument can be attributed to Dr. Pauli Murray, a Howard University-trained lawyer, who began to argue in the 1960s, that the Equal Protection Clause should be applied to cases of sex discrimination in much the same way that it had been applied to cases of racial discrimination.

 

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