STARRED REVIEW
September 01, 2015

Two pioneering women take the bench

By Linda Hirshman
That they're different as day and night is unarguable, but the first two women appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court elevated one another, and the status of women in this country, immeasurably through their combined efforts. Sisters In Law: How Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World profiles O'Connor and Ginsburg, their struggles for acceptance in a field designed to exclude them and the cases they worked on that had the greatest impact.
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That they're different as day and night is unarguable, but the first two women appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court elevated one another, and the status of women in this country, immeasurably through their combined efforts. Sisters In Law: How Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World profiles O'Connor and Ginsburg, their struggles for acceptance in a field designed to exclude them and the cases they worked on that had the greatest impact.

Author Linda Hirshman (Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution) keeps the life stories brief—O'Connor's Western upbringing and the can-do work ethic it instilled contrasts with Ginsburg's Brooklyn Jewish intellectual background, but both found their calling in the law and had to fight for the chance to practice. O'Connor "worked for no salary in order to get a law job at all at the outset of her career." Ginsburg's prim appearance lay at odds with her insistence, radical to many, that women were people in need of equal opportunities, not "protection" that ensconced them in lower-paying jobs or denied them agency over their own bodies. Her long background with the ACLU could have put her at odds with O’Connor, but the two needed one another enough to navigate their differences gracefully. Before sharing the bench, they watched one another's careers closely—one of O'Connor's first written opinions relied so heavily on Ginsburg's prior work, Martin Ginsburg jokingly asked his wife if she'd written it.

The book’s tales of sexism in the legal profession are infuriating (wet T-shirt contest in the office, anyone?), which makes every victory for women that much sweeter. If the details of individual cases are a bit hard for lay readers to follow, it's worth the effort to watch how opinions build upon one another, sometimes only to be undercut by subsequent rulings. Sisters In Law honors a unique pair of women—a Reagan appointee and the "Notorious RBG"—and their effect on our lives, which continues to this day.

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Sisters in Law

Sisters in Law

By Linda Hirshman
Harper
ISBN 9780062238467

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