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Reed v. Reed - Significance

richard court women supreme

This was the first time in the Fourteenth Amendment's 103-year history that the Supreme Court ruled that its Equal Protection Clause protected women's rights.

Although Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, adopted in 1868, stated that "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States . . . nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws," the U.S. Supreme Court refused for a century to apply this guarantee to women.

Reed v. Reed was the first case in which the Supreme Court applied the Fourteenth Amendment to women's rights. This "turning point case," as Ruth Bader Ginsburg termed it, began with the suicide of a teenager, Richard Lynn Reed. Richard's adoptive parents, Sally and Cecil Reed, had earlier separated. The boy spent his "tender years" in the custody of his mother but was transferred into the custody of his father once he reached his teens. At 19, using his father's rifle, Richard killed himself. As Ginsburg remembers, Sally Reed had deeply opposed her loss of Richard's custody and had felt that her estranged husband bore some responsibility for their son's death.

Since Richard had died without a will, Sally Reed filed an application to act as administrator of Richard's estate. When Cecil Reed filed a similar petition, the Probate Court of Ada County ordered that he be appointed administrator upon his taking the required oath and filing the required bond.

The court reached this decision without considering the parents' relative merits, but strictly in accordance with Idaho's mandatory probate code. Section 15-312 provided:

Administration of the estate of a person dying interstate must be granted to some one . . . in the following order:

and 15-314:

[o]f several persons claiming and equally entitled to administer, males must be preferred to females, and relatives of whole to those of the half blood.

Reed v. Reed - Win Some, Lose Some [next]

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