Program on VMI Case Recalls Ginsburg’s Crusade for Gender Equality

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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

A recent program honoring the 25th anniversary of a landmark case allowing women to enroll in the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) also celebrated a broader theme: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s decades-long effort to remove gender bias from state and federal laws.

The virtual program, co-sponsored by the U.S. Supreme Court Historical Society and the American College of Trial Lawyers, described the culmination of legal actions undertaken by Ginsburg when she was a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The VMI case, and Ginsburg’s fight for women’s rights, also are featured in an article on the Women’s History Month page

Speakers in the March 3 program about VMI included two lawyers who argued the Supreme Court case and two of Ginsburg’s former law clerks.

Justice Ginsburg “created an area of law virtually by herself and did it brilliantly,” said Paul Bender, a former U.S. deputy solicitor general who in 1996 successfully argued to allow women at VMI. “There’s probably more to be done, but she’s not around to do it anymore.”

Ginsburg, who died last year, recalled in a 2015 interview that “the law books of the country and the states were just riddled with gender-based classifications.” Many discriminatory laws, she said, were justified as protecting women. 

In Reed v. Reed, a 1971 decision in which Ginsburg co-wrote the plaintiff’s brief, the Supreme Court for the first time ruled that a woman had been denied equal protection under the 14th Amendment because of her sex. A year later, she co-founded the ACLU Women’s Rights Project.

By 1980, when she joined the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Ginsburg had argued six gender-bias cases before the Supreme Court. Gradually, the justices subjected discriminatory laws to increased levels of constitutional scrutiny.

During the anniversary event, Theodore Olson, who represented VMI, said he argued that an alternative women-only military program, the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership, was determined by some experts to offer “a better education in a single-sex environment.”

The Supreme Court voted 7-1 to end VMI’s male-only admission policy, and Ginsburg was assigned the role of drafting the opinion.

“The justice was thrilled to be able to draft this opinion for the court, after bringing case after case as a young advocate to establish gender equality before the high bench,” said Lisa Beattie Frelinghuysen, a law clerk under Ginsburg in 1996. “This was a very exciting opportunity for her.”

In her opinion, Ginsburg stated that VMI’s admission policy violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

“[G]eneralizations about ‘the way women are,’ estimates of what is appropriate for most women, no longer justify denying opportunity to women whose talent and capacity place them outside the average description,” Ginsburg wrote. “Such classifications may not be used, as they once were … to create or perpetuate the legal, social, and economic inferiority of women.”

With the VMI ruling, government-funded single-sex schools came to an end.

“It’s the capstone of her legacy on gender equality,” said Deborah Jones Merritt, an Ohio State University law professor who served as a law clerk for Ginsburg, while she was an appellate judge, and later for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. “She knew that the two hardest hurdles for gender equality would be the military and single-sex education. In VMI, you really have the marriage of the two areas that were going to be the hardest to overcome.”

Ginsburg’s decades-long crusade for gender equality, and her elevation to the Supreme Court, mirrored the civil rights campaign for African Americans that climaxed with Brown v. Board of Education.

“She became the leading (and very successful) litigator on behalf of women’s rights—the Thurgood Marshall of that cause, so to speak,” wrote Justice Antonin Scalia, Ginsburg’s personal friend and the lone dissenter in the VMI case. 

Frelinghuysen recalled that Ginsburg and she were invited to attend a program at VMI about 20 years after the landmark ruling.

“She did a talk at VMI, and we met with some of the first women cadets, as well as the current women cadets,” Frelinghuysen said. “She was very interested in how these cases actually affected the people involved in them. It was wonderful to … hear their gratitude, thanking her for opening the doors for them to pursue their dreams.”

Related Topics: Judicial History, United States Supreme Court

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    GAO found that when rural hospitals closed, residents living in the closed hospitals' service areas would have to travel substantially farther to access certain health care services. Specifically, for residents living in these service areas, GAO's analysis shows that the median distance to access some of the more common health care services increased about 20 miles from 2012 to 2018. For example, the median distance to access general inpatient services was 3.4 miles in 2012, compared to 23.9 miles in 2018—an increase of 20.5 miles. For some of the less common services that were offered by a few of the hospitals that closed, this median distance increased much more. For example, among residents in the service areas of the 11 closed hospitals that offered treatment services for alcohol or drug abuse, the median distance was 5.5 miles in 2012, compared to 44.6 miles in 2018—an increase of 39.1 miles to access these services (see figure). Median Distance in Miles from Service Areas with Rural Hospital Closures to the Nearest Open Hospital that Offered Certain Health Care Services, 2012 and 2018 Notes: GAO focused its analysis on the health care services offered in 2012 by the 64 rural hospitals that closed during the years 2013 through 2017 and for which data were available. For example, in 2012, 64 closed hospitals offered general inpatient services, 62 offered emergency department services, 11 offered treatment services for alcohol or drug abuse, and 11 offered services in a coronary care unit. To examine distance, GAO calculated “crow-fly miles” (the distance measured in a straight line) from the geographic center of each closed rural hospital's service area to the geographic center of the ZIP Code with the nearest open rural or urban hospital that offered a given service. GAO also found that the availability of health care providers in counties with rural hospital closures generally was lower and declined more over time, compared to those without closures. Specifically, counties with closures generally had fewer health care professionals per 100,000 residents in 2012 than did counties without closures. The disparities in the availability of health care professionals in these counties grew from 2012 to 2017. For example, over this time period, the availability of physicians declined more among counties with closures—dropping from a median of 71.2 to 59.7 per 100,000 residents—compared to counties without closures—which dropped from 87.5 to 86.3 per 100,000 residents. Rural hospitals face many challenges in providing essential access to health care services to rural communities. From January 2013 through February 2020, 101 rural hospitals closed. GAO was asked to examine the effects of rural hospital closures on residents living in the areas of the hospitals that closed. This report examines, among other objectives, how closures affected the distance for residents to access health care services, as well as changes in the availability of health care providers in counties with and without closures. GAO analyzed data from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program (NC RHRP) for rural hospitals (1) that closed and those that were open during the years 2013 through 2017, and (2) for which complete data generally were available at the time of GAO's review. GAO also interviewed HHS and NC RHRP officials and reviewed relevant literature. GAO defined hospitals as rural according to data from the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. GAO defined hospital closure as a cessation of inpatient services, the same definition used by NC RHRP. GAO defined service areas with closures as the collection of ZIP Codes that were served by closed rural hospitals and service areas without closures as the collection of ZIP Codes served only by rural hospitals that were open. GAO provided a draft of this report to HHS for comment. The Department provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact James Cosgrove at (202) 512-7114 or cosgrovej@gao.gov.
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  • Navy Maintenance: Navy Report Did Not Fully Address Causes of Delays or Results-Oriented Elements
    In U.S GAO News
    The Navy's July 2020 report identified two key causes and several contributing factors regarding maintenance delays for aircraft carriers, surface ships, and submarines, but did not identify other causes. For public shipyards, the Navy's report identified the key cause of maintenance delays as insufficient capacity relative to growing maintenance requirements. For private shipyards, the Navy's report identified the key cause as the addition of work requirements after a contract is awarded. These causes and other identified factors generally align with factors that GAO has previously identified as originating during the maintenance process. However, the Navy's report did not consider causes and factors originating in the acquisition process or as a result of operational decisions, as shown below. GAO-Identified Factors Contributing to Maintenance Delays That the Navy Identified in Its July 2020 Report The report identified stakeholders needed to implement action plans, but did not fully incorporate other elements of results-oriented management, including achievable goals, metrics to measure progress, and resources and risks. Some examples from the report: Stakeholders: Identified Naval Sea Systems Command as the primary implementer of most initiatives related to maintenance at shipyards. Goals: Included a goal of reducing days of maintenance delay by 80 percent during fiscal year 2020.The Navy did not achieve this goal based on GAO's analysis of Navy data. Metrics: Included some metrics. The Navy is still identifying and developing other key metrics. Resources: Did not identify costs of the actions in the report. Risks: Identified as risks the coronavirus pandemic, unstable funding, and limited material availability. However, the report did not assess additional risks that GAO previously identified. The Navy generally has been unable to complete ship and submarine maintenance on time, resulting in reduced time for training and operations, and additional costs. The Navy's ability to successfully maintain its ships is affected by numerous factors throughout a ship's life cycle, such as decisions made during acquisition, which occurs years before a ship arrives at a shipyard for maintenance. Others manifest during operational use of the ship or during the maintenance process. The conference report accompanying a bill for the Fiscal Year 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act directed the Secretary of the Navy to submit a report identifying the underlying causes of maintenance delays for aircraft carriers, surface ships, and submarines and to include elements of results-oriented management. The conference report also included a provision for GAO to review the Navy's report that was released in July 2020. This report evaluates the extent to which the Navy's report (1) identifies the underlying causes of maintenance delays and (2) incorporates elements of results-oriented management. GAO reviewed the Navy's report and interviewed Navy officials. Since 2015, GAO has made 39 unclassified recommendations related to Navy maintenance delays. The Navy or the Department of Defense concurred or partially concurred with 37 recommendations, and had implemented six of them as of September 2020. For more information, contact Diana Maurer at (202) 512-9627 or MaurerD@gao.gov.
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  • Aviation Sanitation: FDA Could Better Communicate with Airlines to Encourage Voluntary Construction Inspections of Aircraft Galleys and Lavatories
    In U.S GAO News
    Most commercial aircraft undergo voluntary inspections to ensure that galleys and lavatories are constructed and assembled to meet the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) sanitation standards, according to industry representatives. Twenty-seven percent of the inspections FDA conducted between fiscal years 2015 and 2019 found objectionable conditions. But in nearly all of these instances, the conditions identified, such as the need for additional sealant in areas where there was a gap or seam, were corrected by the airline or aircraft manufacturer during the inspection. However, some regional airline representatives told GAO that their aircraft do not receive these construction inspections, either because larger airlines with which they have contracts told them the inspections were unnecessary or because they did not believe the inspections were relevant to them. FDA provides these inspections free of charge, upon request of aircraft manufacturers or airlines, and aircraft passing inspection receive a certificate of sanitary construction. Representatives of one aircraft manufacturer said they view the certificate as beneficial because their customers see it as a guarantee that the aircraft was constructed in a way that decreases the likelihood of microbial contamination, pests, and insects. While the construction inspections are important, they are not required, and FDA does not proactively encourage airlines to request them. By developing a process for communicating directly to all U.S.-based commercial airlines, including regional airlines, to encourage them to receive construction inspections, FDA could better ensure that aircraft meet FDA sanitation standards to protect passenger health. An Airline Representative Applying Additional Sealant in Response to an FDA Inspection FDA faces several challenges in providing construction inspections and is taking steps to address these challenges. For example, the demand for inspections by manufacturers and airlines is unpredictable, and FDA inspectors are responsible for inspections at multiple locations. To help mitigate these challenges, officials we interviewed from four FDA field offices said they usually request advance notice from industry to allow the agency time to allocate the necessary resources for construction inspections. Voluntary construction inspections are the primary mechanism by which FDA oversees compliance with its required sanitation standards for the construction of aircraft galleys and lavatories. A report accompanying the House 2019 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill included a provision for GAO to review FDA's process for ensuring proper sanitation in aircraft galleys and lavatories. This report (1) examines the extent to which aircraft are inspected to ensure compliance with FDA's sanitation standards, and (2) discusses challenges FDA faces in providing aircraft inspections and how FDA is addressing such challenges. GAO reviewed FDA guidance, interviewed FDA officials in headquarters and four selected field offices with high volumes of construction inspections, conducted site visits to meet with FDA inspectors, and interviewed representatives of selected aircraft manufacturers and airlines. GAO recommends that FDA develop a process for communicating directly with all U.S.-based commercial airlines to encourage them to request construction inspections. FDA generally agreed with our recommendation. For more information, contact Steve Morris (202) 512-3841 MorrisS@gao.gov.
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  • Crumbling Foundations: Extent of Homes with Defective Concrete Is Not Fully Known and Federal Options to Aid Homeowners Are Limited
    In U.S GAO News
    As of December 2019, at least 1,600 homes in Connecticut had confirmed pyrrhotite but the total number of affected homes is likely higher. According to one estimate, 4,000–6,000 more homes in Connecticut could develop crumbling foundations due to pyrrhotite. Affected homeowners may face total remediation costs of $150,000 or more and drops in property values of 25 percent or more. Connecticut established funding to provide homeowners with up to $175,000 towards the cost of foundation replacement, but affected homeowners are typically responsible for about one-third of total repair costs (which can include costs for replacing driveways and porches damaged during foundation replacement). Current funding is expected to assist 1,034 homeowners. Pyrrhotite Damage to a Basement and a Home Being Repaired Due to Pyrrhotite Damage GAO found that highly affected towns lost more than $1.6 million in tax revenue in 2018 due to lost assessment value of the houses affected by pyrrhotite, but town officials told us the losses have not yet significantly affected their budgets. However, officials were concerned that pyrrhotite could have long-term effects on their towns if the number of affected homes increased or homes were not remediated. GAO also found that homes located in highly affected towns and built when pyrrhotite-containing concrete was used sold for significantly less, on average, than similar homes in less-affected towns. Stakeholders told GAO that defaults and foreclosures related to pyrrhotite have been limited to date. Some federal funds have already been used for pyrrhotite testing and GAO identified eight additional federal programs that could be used to help mitigate financial impacts on homeowners. However, most of these programs have eligibility or funding restrictions that limit their potential for this purpose. Stakeholders with whom GAO spoke suggested other federal responses—in particular, declaring pyrrhotite damage a major disaster or establishing a federally backed insurance product. However, the Federal Emergency Management Agency determined that pyrrhotite damage did not qualify as a natural catastrophe, and a federally backed insurance program may not be feasible since it would serve a small population with high expected costs. Certain homes built in northeastern Connecticut and central Massachusetts between 1983 and 2015 have concrete foundations containing the mineral pyrrhotite. Pyrrhotite expands when it is exposed to water and oxygen and, over time, concrete foundations containing pyrrhotite may crack and crumble. The Explanatory Statement accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019 included a provision for GAO to study the financial impact of pyrrhotite. This report describes (1) what is known about the number of homes affected by pyrrhotite in the region; (2) the financial impact of pyrrhotite on homeowners; (3) the financial effects on towns, local housing markets, and the federal government; and (4) federal options to mitigate pyrrhotite's financial impact on affected homeowners. GAO analyzed data from state, local, and private entities about the extent of pyrrhotite in foundations and associated costs, and federal actions taken in response to pyrrhotite. GAO also interviewed federal, state, and local officials; homeowners; and other stakeholders such as banks and real estate agents. For more information, contact John Pendleton at (202) 512-8678 or pendletonj@gao.gov.
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  • U.S. Government Accountability Office (U.S. GAO)
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Navy has identified several challenges with using its regular maintenance capability (which restores ships to fully operational status) to provide battle damage repairs during a great power conflict. Challenges include—the lack of established doctrine for battle damage repair, unclear command and control roles, and a shortage of repair capacity. The Navy Process for Repairing Ships Damaged in Battle The Navy is in the early stages of determining how it will provide battle damage repair during a great power conflict. Eight organizations are responsible for the Navy's 15 battle damage repair planning efforts, however the Navy has not designated an organization to lead and oversee these efforts. Without designated leadership, the Navy may be hindered in its efforts to address the many challenges it faces in sustaining its ships during a great power conflict. The Navy develops ship vulnerability models during a ship's acquisition to estimate damage during a conflict. These models are also used to inform war games that refine operational approaches and train leaders on decision-making. However, the Navy does not update these models over a ship's decades-long service life to reflect changes to key systems that could affect model accuracy. As a result, it lacks quality data on ship mission-critical failure points to inform its analysis of battle damage repair needs. Without periodically assessing and updating its models to accurately reflect the ship's mission-critical systems, the Navy has limited its ability to assess and develop battle damage repair capabilities necessary to sustain ships in a conflict with a great power competitor. Why GAO Did This Study The ability to repair and maintain ships plays a critical role in sustaining Navy readiness. After the Cold War, the Navy divested many wartime ship repair capabilities. With the rise of great power competitors capable of producing high-end threats in warfare, the Navy must now be prepared to quickly salvage and repair damage to a modern fleet. House Report 116-120, accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, included a provision for GAO to assess the Navy's efforts to identify and mitigate challenges in repairing battle-damaged ships during a great power conflict. GAO's report (1) discusses the challenges the Navy has identified in using its regular maintenance capability for battle damage repair, and (2) evaluates the extent to which the Navy has begun developing the battle damage repair capability it requires to prevail in a great power conflict. GAO reviewed relevant guidance and assessed reports on naval war games and other documentation to identify challenges that may impede the planning and repair of battle-damaged ships and efforts to improve the repair capability for a great power conflict.
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  • Superfund: EPA Should Take Additional Actions to Manage Risks from Climate Change Effects
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In October 2019, GAO reported that available federal data on flooding, storm surge, wildfires, and sea level rise suggested that about 60 percent (945 of 1,571) of all nonfederal Superfund National Priorities List (NPL) sites—which have serious hazardous contamination--are located in areas that may be impacted by these potential climate change effects (see figure). In 2019, GAO released an interactive map and dataset, available with its report (GAO-20-73). Nonfederal NPL Sites Located in Areas That May Be Impacted by Flooding, Storm Surge, Wildfires, or Sea Level Rise, as of 2019 Notes: This map does not display all 1,571 active and deleted nonfederal NPL sites GAO analyzed in 2019, which also include six sites in American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, though they are included in the counts above. Learn more at https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-20-73. Storm surge data were not available for the West Coast and Pacific islands other than Hawaii, wildfire data were not available outside the contiguous United States, and sea level rise data were not available for Alaska. GAO also reported in 2019 that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) actions to manage risks from climate change effects at these sites aligned with three of GAO's six essential elements of enterprise risk management, partially aligned with two, and did not align with one. For example, EPA had not aligned its process for managing risks with agency-wide goals. Without clarifying this linkage, EPA could not ensure that senior officials would take an active role in strategic planning and accountability for managing these risks. In 2019, GAO found that EPA recognized institutional, resource, and technical challenges in managing risks from climate change effects. For example, some EPA officials told us they do not have the direction they need to manage these risks. Insufficient or changing resources may also make it challenging for EPA to manage these risks, according to EPA documents and officials. Why GAO Did This Study Superfund is the principal federal program for addressing sites contaminated with hazardous substances. EPA administers the program and lists some of the most seriously contaminated sites—most of which are nonfederal—on the NPL. At those sites, EPA has recorded over 500 contaminants, including arsenic and lead. Climate change may make some natural disasters more frequent or more intense, which may damage NPL sites and potentially release contaminants, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment. This testimony summarizes GAO's October 2019 report (GAO-20-73) on the impact of climate change on nonfederal NPL sites. Specifically, it discusses (1) what available federal data suggest about the number of nonfederal NPL sites that are located in areas that may be impacted by selected climate change effects; (2) the extent to which EPA has managed risks to human health and the environment from the potential impacts of climate change effects at nonfederal NPL sites; and (3) challenges EPA faces in managing these risks.
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