Justice Tells Women: ‘Rooting Out Unconscious Bias Is Much Harder’

By Phaedra Haywood
The Santa Fe New Mexican.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told a Santa Fe audience Friday that discrimination against women is more subtle than it used to be and can be more difficult to combat than the overt discrimination she encountered when she began her legal career more than 50 years ago.

“Rooting out unconscious bias is much harder,” she said, than simply changing laws that, for example, would prevent women from holding positions such as police officer or firefighter.

Ginsburg said many young women she speaks to about women’s equality these days would say they haven’t experienced gender discrimination.

“I think, sadly, ‘wait until the baby comes,’ and they are going to understand that it’s not yet equal,” said Ginsburg, who litigated gender-based discrimination cases in the courts throughout the 1970s and helped launch the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union before her 1993 appointment to the nation’s highest court.

On Friday, she sat down with Albuquerque-based lawyer Roberta Cooper Ramo to discuss women’s issues in front of about of 350 people, most of them women, at the newly opened Drury Plaza Hotel in downtown Santa Fe.

The discussion — during which the justice touched on topics ranging from opera to her two bouts with cancer to the political climate that existed when the U.S. Constitution was written — was the kickoff event for a symposium titled Risk and Reinvention:

How Women are Changing the World. The event is being hosted this weekend by the Women’s International Study Center headquartered on Acequia Madre Street.

Now 81, Ginsburg appeared a bit frail when she entered the ballroom Friday, but she held the audience rapt with her observations — by turns insightful and witty — about the progress of the women’s rights movement.

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