Since its beginnings, only four women have served as Justices on the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS): Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Elena Kagan, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice O’Connor made history when she became the first woman to serve the Court in 1981.
The Supreme Court is the highest Court in the United States, responsible for upholding the Constitution. It has the power to check the actions of the President and of Congress.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is the most prolific litigator of SCOTUS. She is also known as the most important women’s rights attorney in history, and among the most influential in causes for equality. Before joining the Court, she served as Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Right’s Project, and she wrote the groundbreaking brief, Reed v. Reed (1972), which forced the Supreme Court to acknowledge that the Constitution’s Equal Protections clause also applies to women. It paved the way for the Equal Rights Amendment, which has not yet been ratified by Congress. She is the mother of two children, James and Jane.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor has more federal judiciary experience than any judge who has served the Court in the past 100 years. When she was appointed to the Court in 2009, she became the first Latina to sit on SCOTUS. A self-described Nuyorican, she was born in the South Bronx and she has a long history of activism and advocacy for racial justice. She believes the personal is political, and she has acknowledged the ways in which her experience as a woman and as a Latina inform her practice. Justice Sotomayor served as a prosecutor, then as a partner in private practice, and as a federal judge—she is credited with “saving baseball” by ruling that players have the right to collectively bargain.
And while Justice Elena Kagan has held many positions in law (including solicitor general and special counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee), much of her career before joining SCOTUS was in academic roles, including serving as Dean of Harvard Law School. She is a longstanding advocate of equality-based learning communities; and, she has been called the most influential liberal justice on the Court. On SCOTUS, she supported the Affordable Care Act (along with Ginsberg and Sotomayor) as well as the decision that made same sex marriage legal in every state in the nation.
Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1981, and became the first female Supreme Court Justice in history. Understood as a moderate conservative, she wrote the opinion that granted men access to a women-only nursing school, and she provided the decisive vote in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) that ultimately upheld Roe v. Wade. She is a breast cancer survivor and mother of three. Justice O’Connor retired from the Court in 2006.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg, My Own Words (2016)
Clare Cushman, Supreme Court Decisions and Women’s Rights (2010)
Linda Hirshman, Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’connor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World (2016)
Sonia Sotomayor, My Beloved World (2014)