Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Muller v. Oregon

31May09

The Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville occasionally awards the Brandeis Medal to people who have made significant contributions to individual liberty and public service. The 2003 recipient was Ruth Bader Ginsburg. At the award ceremony, Bader Ginsburg gave the speech “From Brandeis to Breyer: Is There a Jewish Seat?” Unfortunately, I can’t find a copy of the speech online, but it was printed in the Brandeis at 150 book.

Bader Ginsburg has recently made the news with a couple more Brandeis-related appearances. In December 2008, she presided over a re-argument of Muller v. Oregon, an event organized by the Supreme Court Historical Society to commemorate the 100th anniversary of that landmark case. She also on two occasions (September 12, 2008 at the Willamette University College of Law and on February 13, 2009 at Rutgers-Newark Law School) gave a speech on the history of the case and its impact over the years.

It’s hard to think of anyone more suited to give that speech, since she’s not only a Supreme Court justice, but also someone who life was indirectly affected by the Court’s decision. While celebrated as the case that introduced “The Brandeis Brief” and the use of social science statistics in legal arguments, it has also been heavily criticized over the years as the genesis of a number of paternalistic laws that kept women from applying for a number of jobs. Bader Ginsburg outlines the impact Muller had on 20th century labor rights and legislation for both men and women, a lot of it negative.

So is Bader Ginsburg against the decision reached in Muller? Having been given the chance to reverse the decision in the re-enactment, did she take it? I’ll let you read that for yourself. The Legal Times Blog has an account of the re-argument. It sounds like it was a lot of fun. I would have loved to have been there.

You can read more of  the reasoning behind her decision in her speeches. The Willamette version of the speech has been reprinted in the volume 45, third issue of the Willamette Law Review. The Rutgers version of the speech can be found online here.

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