Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is long been considered a champion of women’s rights. But landmark cases that she argued in front of the Supreme Court as an attorney, along with those she presided over as justice herself, have opened financial opportunities for everyone — regardless of gender.
Dhara Singh, a reporter for Yahoo Money and Cashay, discusses Ginsburg’s legacy when it comes to personal finances with Cashay Editor Janna Herron in this episode of Money, Honestly.
The podcast episode is based on reporting Dhara did for Yahoo Money article.
Janna: Hi. This is Money, Honestly. I'm Janna Heron. Today, Dhara Singh, a reporter on my team at Yahoo Money and Cache is joining us. We'll be talking about Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg's impact on personal finances.
Dhara, thanks for joining us.
Dhara: Thanks for having me.
Janna: It's been about a week since we got the news that justice Ginsburg passed away. So people are looking back on her life as a Supreme Court justice, and even before that, as an attorney and looking at the legacy that she left behind, which is huge, but you specifically wanted to look into the personal finance aspect of it since that's what we do here. So what are some of the things that you've found?
Dhara: Sure. So for starters, just as a background, a lot of the coverage kind of has been Ruth Bader Ginsburg being a champion of women's rights, but honestly, she was a champion of just equality overall for all genders and all races. I think in short, a lot of the experts that I'm seeing, what they brought to my attention was that she made everyone feel like they were really an active participant in their financial dealings in their personal finances. So just to start off with, I think one of the earliest cases where she really made an impact was during her time at the ACLU where she was there, she was the co-founder of the Women's Rights Project, but she tackled a brief for a case. It was called Reed versus Reed in 1971.
Here, a woman blamed her husband for her son's suicide, Sally Reed, and basically due to the Idaho law, she wasn't able to manage her son's estate, but Ginsburg and another colleague, they wrote a very powerful brief, and that really contributed to the case actually turning in Sally Reed's favor. From there, it really paved the way for women having equal access to housing, having equal access to estate just like any male counterpart would.
Janna: Wow. Okay. So that was one of the earliest examples that you found where she really just made a difference and started to pave that way for women, and like you said, for even others to have more control over their own financial trajectory. So one of the things you did say is that she did go... It wasn't just about women, and didn't she have some impact by actually taking on a case where it was the man who was being discriminated against?
Dhara: Yes, she did. Actually, this was an interesting case. It's called Weinberger versus Wiesenfeld . So basically, there is a man by the name of Charles Moritz, excuse me if I'm pronouncing that wrong, but he needed to claim this tax deduction for his mother, but the IRS at the time, said that he can't have these claims because not only is he unmarried, but he's a male. Usually, what had had worked was if you were a female and let's say you had basically lost a son or whatever, then you would have access to these benefits. It was interesting. It's like you read a lot of cases where women are prejudiced against, but this time, it was actually a male figure.
So by the time she represented this man, and when I went to the Supreme Court, all judges actually favored and it was unanimous and they all favored in Moritz standing. They said that basically, the Social Security Act of 1935 did violate the right to equal protection in the fifth amendment, just that distinction alone about the tax deduction. This portion of the amendment did state that no person can be deprived of life, Liberty, or property without due process. So basically, that due process was applied to the Social Security Act. And from there, it was ruled that a man can claim these benefits.
Janna: Okay. So that's interesting because you think of her as, like you said, a champion of women's rights, but it's actually really just she's a champion of the law being applied equally to everyone. You also found some interesting things about how she helped bridge a gap between women in housing wealth. Can you get into that a little bit?
Dhara: Yes. Yes. So anyone who is really in the housing... Honestly, anyone and anyone really knows that housing is a key cornerstone of building wealth. We're looking at record high home equity wealth. It just goes to show that just buying a property, even in your own name is so important, but there was a time way back when before the 1970s where believe it or not women, if you weren't married, you would have a hard time getting access to credit and signing a mortgage. So basically, the work that she did before 1974, such as in cases like Reed versus Reed, which we talked about, really helped build a solid ground for the Equal Credit Opportunity Act passed in 1974. This act made it unlawful, illegal for creditors to discriminate against anyone who really applies for credit based on whatever race you are, religion, color, your sex, your marital status, age, and women were really able to apply for mortgages due to this.
It's funny because I actually have talked to a few experts, one of which is I Ogechi Igbokwe. She's the founder of OneSavvyDollar personal finance platform, and she openly told me, she's like, "Hey, I'm single, I'm unmarried and I came to this country when I was 21 years old. If it wasn't for my ability to buy real estate, I wouldn't have been in this financial position I am today." Yeah.
Janna: And that was the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and that was passed, you said 1974. I think before on one of our previous episodes of Money, Honestly, you did talk about how women couldn't get a credit card without their husband back in the sixties and seventies, early seventies. Is that the same law that allowed them to be able to get a credit card?
Dhara: Yes, absolutely. That is the same law. It's interesting because if you think about it today, especially we're in a pandemic and a lot of people have lost their jobs, this common sense, but there might be a time where you might be on shaky ground with your job and you might just want to get extra cash just in case. So you take out a cash out refinance and believe it or not, if you were a woman back in 1974, and let's say this act never came into being, you wouldn't be able to tap into your homes wealth or anything. So yeah, this law really, this act really helped you getting a mortgage, really helped you getting a credit card and it really helped you opening up a bank account without a male figure near you.
Janna: It also helps you build credit, which is also something that's really important to have a good credit score and be able to eventually, get a good mortgage with a low mortgage rate if you have a good credit score. So it really just is the foundation of your financial life. It's just amazing that before 1974, women didn't have access to doing that.
Dhara: Yeah, and I just think of myself too. Just being there I have a couple cards myself and I can't imagine just going into a bank with my brother or my dad or- [crosstalk 00:08:30]
Janna: Oh God.
Dhara: It would just one, it would take up too much time. And then two, I can't imagine what it must feel like to not feel that equal and have control over your financial future.
Janna: So Ginsburg's earliest work just showing that there's inequality in the way laws are applied, especially when it comes to finances really helped make this law happen, really just put that foundation together so that, "Hey, this is a problem, right?"
Dhara: Yeah, exactly. It wasn't just a woman building wealth or a man having access to his social security benefits. She also paved the way for earning potential in so many ways for women too through different court cases. One of the court cases was United States versus Virginia in 1996. So basically by this time, most of the [inaudible 00:09:31] United States, if not, really all besides this one weren't equal where there were males and there were females, but the Virginia Military Institute in 1996, it was still an all male college. Basically, she wrote this majority opinion for that case that stated that gender equality is a constitutional right. So the admissions policy for the Virginia Military Institute violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment. Basically in a nutshell, this clause does that really those in similarly situated areas must be similarly treated.
She also made this point that there's a lot of generalizations about the way women are, but what was appropriate for maybe a woman couple years ago from society's eyes, it's no longer justifies denying opportunity to them, especially as they have tremendous talent and capacity to grow. We're really seeing the benefits of this now because in an interesting turn of events actually, more females are attending college than men are.
Janna: That's true. That is interesting. Then you also said, or you found out that as a Supreme Court justice, she also presided over a case that touched on equal pay. Is that right?
Dhara: Yes. Yes. This one was very interesting. So it's a funny. I know a local Goodyear shop just around where I live, so now whenever I'm going to see that, I'm going to remember that case. In 2007, Ledbetter versus Goodyear. So there was a woman called Lily Ledbetter, and basically, she had worked at Goodyear for literally close to more than a decade, close to two decades actually. She had just suspected that her male colleagues were getting paid more than her. Now, the interesting thing was that Goodyear tried to, from their on the lawsuit, they were saying that, "Well, Ledbetter's complaints don't matter because she filed them after the 180 day complaint window they had," which is silly because even as RBG said... And what RBG said in that case, unfortunately, they did rule against Ledbetter and the court didn't turn in her favor, but Ginsburg wrote a great descent to saying that, "Well, Ledbetter Wouldn't have known in real time that she was being discriminated against and pay discrepancies are usually hidden from employees."
Janna: Right. Yeah. It's one of those things... It's interesting because equal pay is just an issue that's still out there and we've seen, since 2007, moves to make it more transparent. People are putting their pay online and things like that, so that people have a better idea of whether or not they're getting paid what they're worth. So that's still obviously, an ongoing issue. So given everything that you found out about Ginsburg, what is your big takeaway from this?
Dhara: I think the next time anyone goes to apply for a credit card, apply for a debit card, maybe even sees a Goodyear next to them, no offense to Goodyear whatsoever because I'm just remembering the court case, but anytime you see you have a credit card in your hand, especially if you're a woman, you're just going to remember that literally privileges were just paved by so many women before you. You should just be thankful that you weren't living that time period where you had to again, get a male figure to come with you to get these financial opportunities. Also, you just think about today, you have so much opportunity to build wealth too, and definitely something we shouldn't take for granted.
Janna: For sure, because it's better if everyone can build wealth and be participants in the economy rather than just white men, for example.
Dhara: Yes. For sure. For sure.
Janna: Thank you, Dhara, for joining us today on Money, Honestly, and thank you everyone for listening. Head over to Apple podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review. We'll see you next time.
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