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Sometimes keeping status quo takes a fight

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s descriptions of the struggle women faced in seeking equality were spoken in a soft, hushed tone of voice. Yet every word was audible as the 81-year-old justice relayed stories forged on the front lines of the struggle for equality.

She was addressing a packed audience of 350 people at last week’s Women’s International Study Center symposium at the Drury Plaza Hotel in Santa Fe.

Ginsburg, who managed to be a brilliant academic, litigant, wife, mother and judge before being appointed justice to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton, was recalling incidents that are important to remember despite strides that women have made.

She went to work when other mothers in her child’s class stayed at home. So fast was women’s progress in the workplace that by her second child, Ginsburg no longer was the only working mom.

Ginsburg was there as both participant and witness to sweeping social change. She was around when women weren’t placed on juries as a “favor” to them. She was in the thick of the fight for women to win reproductive rights and to be considered equal citizens.

Yet, as a law student, she didn’t dream of becoming a Supreme Court justice. She just wanted “a job, any job.”

And today, she wants young women to remember the fight — because, as is so true, those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it. Hard-won rights can be removed, one by one.

The conversation, conducted by Roberta Cooper Ramo, an Albuquerque attorney and the first female American Bar Association president, showed that Ginsburg possesses a steel-trap memory and a wonderfully witty way with words.

Her points about how people of different political philosophies can still get along should be required listening (the event was taped) for both President Barack Obama and members of Congress. Seeing an opponent or political enemy as a human being, and respecting him or her, is essential.

Despite disagreements, the justices are united in the belief that the work must come first and what’s more, that their conduct must not bring disrespect to the institution of the court. That’s a model the rest of our dysfunctional government would do well to adopt.

A frequent visitor to Santa Fe, Justice Ginsburg comes in the summer to attend The Santa Fe Opera and visit with friends.

The justice’s words are a timely reminder that smart women don’t take progress for granted. Sometimes, maintaining the status quo — even access to birth control — takes a fight.

— The Santa Fe New Mexican

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