May 09, 2016

On Books: Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World

Laura Possessky

Reviewed by Laura Possessky

Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World

390 Pages

Linda Hirshman (Harper 2015)

Linda Hirshman’s Sisters In Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World portrays an engaging exploration into the influence of the first two women to serve on the Supreme Court. While the lives and careers of these two iconic women are different in nearly every way, their dramatically different career paths to the Court provide a starting point to compare and contrast each woman’s experiences and to offer insights into the influences that informed their judicial interpretations of the most important legal issues of our time.

Through entertaining vignettes and meticulously detailed accounts of each woman’s early influences and Court appointments, Ms. Hirshman sets the stage for the dynamic interaction of O’Connor and Ginsburg on the Court. Despite distinctive legal philosophies, the two women share common strengths and feminine perceptions that afforded the opportunity for them to develop a mutual respect and to find doctrinal common ground. Ms. Hirshman notes that upon her arrival at the Court, Justice Ginsburg, while disagreeing on the “substance of particular decisions . . . also claimed O’Connor as a model on the big question of constitution interpretation in general.” Similarly, O’Connor demonstrated professional respect, notably, during a conference when Justice O’Connor was assigned the opinion in the Virginia Military Institute sex discrimination case United States v. Virginia, she declined, saying, “This should be Ruth’s.”

While many scholars and pundits point to the reproductive rights cases as a defining feminist influence, Ms. Hirschman aptly demonstrates that these two women—individually and together—initiated a much broader and more profound shift in both the inner workings of the Supreme Court and the legal doctrine of gender equality. Equally important, these two remarkable women have played a central role in the advancement of women in the profession. Over the course of their respective careers and most notably during their time together on the Supreme Court, O’Connor and Ginsburg disrupted the conventional wisdom—early and often—that women are second chair in the legal circles of power and influence. Through their concerted efforts, Justice O’Connor and Justice Ginsburg have guaranteed that women will have a seat at the table for generations to come.

Laura Possessky