Book Note: Sisters In Law by Linda Hirshman


Sisters In Law by Linda Hirshman chronicles the women’s equality movement as it moved through a legislator in Arizona and a litigator in New York to the Supreme Court of the United States. Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg chartered unique paths in their contributions to accessibility, visibility, and respect for women, yet they intersected for powerful change. 

Hirshman culls the lives of Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg for key moments and decisions that moved them through their careers. In doing this Hirshman introduces underlying motives, pressures, and tensions of the two women. That they are so different and yet achieved so much in the direct face of an ignorant or ignoble society makes an intriguing story compilation. Not only did they provide a framework for women accessing the same rights as men, but they modeled, intentionally or not, how it is critical to have different personalities, perspectives, and opinions engaged in order to push successfully for change. Hirshman emphasizes the team of individuals who supported and challenged these women; she discusses court cases and objectives clearly; and she presents a clear vision for the results that the intersection of personality and events created.

Hirshman’s language seems biased at times, using words that belittle or bemoan O’Connor’s style or decisions while later casting similar approaches from Ruth Bader Ginsburg as strategic, but her analysis is fair overall. O’Connor did not set out to blaze a path for women and so it can seem misappropriated to judge her by that standard. Likewise, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has factored in myriad legal decisions and to limit her scope of influence to her judgements only in the equal rights arena would fail to provide an overall accurate assessment of her influence on the Court and culture.  At times O’Connor seems rigidly aligned to her political connections; at times Ruth Bader Ginsburg seems singularly aligned to this one issue. 

But, if one was going to pick a focus for an otherwise unlikely pairing, examining how they shaped the legal landscape for women is the best choice. Because that is exactly what they did. Hirshman delivers. Not only does the book illuminate the influence of Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but it is also a fascinating glimpse of behind-the-scenes Supreme Court wrangling.

A good read. And an important one.

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