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Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Legacy As Women's Rights Champion


Our next guest is an attorney who says she was inspired to become a women's rights lawyer by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She is Fatima Goss Graves, and she is the president and CEO of the National Women's Law Center.

Fatima Goss Graves, thank you so much for joining us as well.

FATIMA GOSS GRAVES: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: You tweeted earlier today about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing in part that RBG laid the path for so many of us. Could you just tell us a bit more? In what ways did she lay the path for you?

GOSS GRAVES: Yeah. RBG was a trailblazer for women generally but the architect of so many of our foundational rights. And I'm the first lawyer in my own family, and thinking about how to use the law to bolster this sort of change that's necessary culturally and beyond, she was the one who wrote the book.

And the National Women's Law Center itself - its founding was inspired by the Reed decision and her work at ACLU Women's Rights Project. So in so many ways, I owe my own personal career to her. But women lawyers around this country and women in general are - there is a heavy grief over us as we are grappling with this loss.

MARTIN: And, of course, we see her and the National Women's Law Center - and we see Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a champion for women's rights. But she emphasized that she saw it more as a fight for equality rather than exclusively for the rights of women. How do you see that distinction?

GOSS GRAVES: Well, I - one of the things that she did so beautifully is both explain that equality would have benefits for everyone - that the notion that gender equality would benefit women but benefit men as well. And so the principles that we now understand as being core in our Constitution that protect against sex discrimination - for sure they have unleashed tremendous opportunities for women. But they have also for men, for families and for all of us.

And when I think about the last Supreme Court term, where we had yet another historic decision in the Bostock case, which gave more meaning to sex discrimination principle - you see her legacy in that as well.

MARTIN: There are many people, particularly on the progressive side, who are expressing concern that if President Trump and the Republican majority in the Senate succeed in filling the vacancy on the court as rapidly as they say they would like to do that that seat will be filled by somebody who's far more conservative than Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has very, very different views about gender equality, even about whether that's an attainable or desirable goal.

And others say that that's absurd because the culture has changed so very much that it's noteworthy that three of the sort of the top contenders being discussed for her seat are all women. So what do you say about that? I mean, some argue that the cultural changes that she helped bring about through the law are so now deeply entrenched that it just isn't possible to reverse those. What do you say to that?

GOSS GRAVES: I should begin by saying it's just unthinkable - the idea that a president would be able to make an appointment during an election when people are already voting. But when I think about her legacy and what could happen after her, I would say that the cultural change happens alongside the legal change.

So much of what she did to create these foundational principles were actually creating the law to match where the cultural moment was almost 50 years ago. And when I think about the cultural conversations today that have gone so far, we actually need to update our laws and update our institutions to match today's conversation.

MARTIN: And to that end - we have about a minute and a half left - what would be the focus of that, in your view? What are some areas of law that you think are most important for Americans to think about as they think about the direction that the court could head in?

GOSS GRAVES: Well, people should know that there is just so much at stake.

In terms of access to health care, broadly, the Affordable Care Act argument is literally the week after the election, addressing the unrelenting attacks that come from anti-abortion extremists across this country, questions around whether survivors of sexual violence are protected in schools and at - in the workplace, whether this administration could radically restructure our benefit programs, whether organizations can take tax dollar money, on the one hand, and then turn away LGBTQ people with the other and discriminate against women - the truth is, really, all is at stake. And our very democracy is at stake if we don't do this right.

MARTIN: That is Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women's Law Center. Thank you so much for speaking with us on this consequential day.

GOSS GRAVES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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