A dual biography of the pioneering jurists whose arrival on the Supreme Court both commemorated and invigorated the movement toward gender equality.
Hirshman (Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution, 2012, etc.), an attorney who has argued before the Supreme Court, counts herself among the countless beneficiaries of that trend, having in just a few short years gone from an outlier as a woman in the world of law to “a pretty normal player.” It would be hard to find two people less alike than Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the one a conservative who grew up on a New Mexico ranch and entered politics with the Goldwater wing of the Republican Party, the other a liberal Democrat from Brooklyn who had been a feminist activist for years before attaining her seat at the bench. Yet both were also accomplished lawyers who broke into the profession “when there was not even a whisper of a women’s legal movement,” setting precedents that encouraged other women to follow. Hirshman notes what might seem to be detriments, from Ginsburg’s occasional brittleness and possible legal missteps, such as suggesting that abortion should have been argued as a matter of women's equality in 1973—the author’s reasoning on that count is subtle but generally convincing—to O’Connor’s loyalty to William Rehnquist, who, after all, was an enemy of precisely the same attainments of civil rights for which O’Connor was in the vanguard. Yet both O’Connor and Ginsburg “recognized that women could use the law to pry open realms of life foreclosed to them by historical practices of exclusion,” and they did just that. Hirshman goes on to examine not just their role in reforming the culture of the Supreme Court and the tenor of some aspects of the law, but also their work on specific issues such as affirmative action and sex discrimination.
An intelligent, evenhanded look at a changing society and its legal foundations.