Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died September 18, 2020 at the age of 87, was famous for her staunch feminist support of Title IX rights—including the due process rights that protect the accused and alleged victims alike. The justice, fondly known in pop culture as “Notorious RBG,” has left a legacy of advocating for gender equality and women’s rights.
Ginsburg’s legal history and Title IX rights
Ginsburg had a long history advocating for gender equality and women’s rights even before she was a judge. She had personal experience with gender discrimination. When she entered Harvard Law, she was asked to justify why she and her other classmates were taking the place of a men, whose spots they supposedly had taken. After graduation, she could not secure a position at a law firm, so she became a professor at Cornell and Rutgers. In 1971, she helped launch the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU, winning five of the six cases she argued before the Supreme Court.
Ginsburg served on the United States Court of Appeals, and was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993.
Throughout her tenure, she supported Title IX rights. One of her most famous opinions was United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515 (1996), in which the Court struck down the male-only admissions policy of the Virginia Military Institute. She also joined the majority in finding that Title IX applies to schools that fail to stop student-on-student sexual harassment, as well as allowing claims of retaliation by sexual harassment complainants. This dramatically expanded the rights and protections of alleged victims of sexual harassment.
Ginsburg’s support of Title IX was not limited to protecting people from gender discrimination. She also saw the danger to both sexes in unfair prosecutions and kangaroo courts.
While she believed Title IX performed an important function in requiring college campuses to investigate sexual misconduct claims, Ginsburg also stressed that due process rights must be upheld. She agreed with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rescinding some of the Obama-era approach to Title IX, where the accused may not be privy to the complete nature of the charges against them or have the right to face their accuser.
In a 2018 interview, Ginsburg told Jeffrey Rosen that it’s not mutually exclusive to seek justice for victims of sexual misconduct and fair procedures of investigation and hearings. The basic tenets of our legal system require due process. When asked her thoughts about “how to balance the values of due process against the need for increased gender equality,” she responded, “It’s not one or the other. It’s both. We have a system of justice where people who are accused get due process, so it’s just applying to this field what we have applied generally.”
In short, Justice Ginsburg did not, as some advocates and administrators unfortunately do, see a need for a special realm of campus rules and procedures that diminish students due process rights for Title IX. She recognized, for example, the importance of adequate notice and a fair hearing for the accused just as much as she advocated for gender equality on college campuses, in the workplace and beyond.
If you believe you have a Title IX case against your university, if you have been the victim of sexual assault or harassment, or if you have been accused in a Title IX case, contact Allen Law today.