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Reed v. Reed - Equal Protection

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Sally Reed appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ginsburg and others associated with the Women's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union joined Derr to represent her. The Court also received amicus curiae, or "friend of the court," briefs from many other organizations. Derr argued Sally Reed's case on 19 October 1971, continuing to insist--as rights advocates had since the 1870s--that women's rights were protected under the Fourteenth Amendment. In contrast, Cecil Reed's lawyers defended Idaho's law as providing a reasonable means of streamlining the probate court's workload.

This time, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that women's rights were within the province of the Fourteenth Amendment. In the Court's opinion, Chief Justice Burger wrote, "We have concluded that the arbitrary preference established in favor of males . . . cannot stand in the face of the Fourteenth Amendment's command that no State deny the equal protection of the laws to any person within its jurisdiction . . . This Court has consistently recognized that the Fourteenth Amendment does not deny to States the power to treat different classes of persons in different ways . . . [It] does, however, deny to States the power to legislate that different treatment be accorded to persons placed by a statute into different classes on the basis of criteria wholly unrelated to the objective of that statute. A classification `must be reasonable, not arbitrary . . . '"

Sally Reed and her lawyers thus won for women what Susan B. Anthony, Myra Bradwell, and Virginia Minor had begun to seek in the courts nearly one century before: Fourteenth Amendment protection of women's constitutional rights.

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

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