Oh how Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg longs for the days when she wasn’t the sole female on the Supreme Court. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, whom often voted with the liberal justices on sharply divided issues involving women, was replaced last year by Samuel Alito. Since his short time on the Supreme bench he has reliably given the conservatives the 5-4 victory on the issues that used to go the other way.
Yesterday the Supreme Court announced their opinion in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., making it harder for workers to sue their employers for discrimination in pay. The opinion was authored by Alito and joined by the four other conservative justices.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires that an individual wishing to challenge an employment practice file a charge with the EEOC within 180 days “after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred,” otherwise the challenge cannot be brought to court.
Yesterday’s decision was about a Goodyear Tire plant supervisor who was the only woman among 16 men at the same management level, but received significantly less pay throughout her 20-year career. Unfortunately for Lilly Ledbetter, she waited too long to make the complaint.
Justice Ginsburg wrote a blistering dissent that joined by her three liberal colleagues, and took the unusual step that angry dissenters sometimes take and read it from the bench. When it was her turn to speak, she called on Congress to “correct this Court’s parsimonious reading of Title VII.”
Some conservatives are angry that Ginsburg displayed her frustration by telling Congress how she believes laws should be written, but to me it illustrates the proper role of federal judges. The conservatives were right in this case and interpreted Title VII correctly, however “parsimonious” it may be.
Sure enough, Senator Clinton has announced that she will introduce legislation to correct Title VII. And that’s how it should work. Unlike Justice Ginsburg, Senator Clinton was elected by the people and can be held accountable for her votes. She has the power to write laws, Ginsburg doesn’t.
This case is one of many highlighting the importance of Alito’s ascension to the Supreme Court and why conservative interpretation of the Constitution is better than a liberal one. We (at least I) don’t always like a 5-4 ruling authored by the right, but at least Congress has an avenue to correct it. When liberals win (by being joined by moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy) the rulings are often final because activist interpretations change the meaning of the Constitution which can’t be remedied by Congressional legislation.