People For the American Way

Debate Exposes Importance of Supreme Court to Working Women

In last night’s debate, President Obama effectively laid out the damage to the middle class that a Romney presidency would do, especially to working women. He noted that the first bill he signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which reversed a Supreme Court decision misinterpreting the Civil Rights Act to prevent women like Ledbetter from suing when they learn they’d been discriminated against for years.

Here’s the background: After working for the same company for many years, Ledbetter got an anonymous tip that for years on end she was being paid far less than her male colleagues doing the same work, all due to a discriminatory evaluation. She sued, and a jury awarded her back pay, but the five far-right Justices on the Supreme Court ruled that she should have filed her lawsuit within 180 days of the long-ago discriminatory evaluation. Common sense would tell you that every time she got a discriminatory paycheck, it was a new act of discrimination that reset the 180-day clock. The far-right Justices’ interpretation of the law was not compatible with common sense, not compatible with the law’s purpose of eliminating discrimination, and not compatible with workplace reality: Most employees have no idea what their co-workers earn, so how could they know they are being discriminated against?

No wonder, then, that in 2009 the then-Democratic Congress restored the law’s original meaning, and the newly inaugurated President Obama made it the first bill he signed.

As for Mitt Romney – He has bobbed and weaved and done whatever it takes to avoid answering the simple question of whether he would have signed that bill. But he has made crystal-clear that he would nominate Justices just like the far-right ones who gave us the disastrous decision in the Ledbetter case – Justices like Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.

And these are lifetime appointments. The next president’s Justices could be on the Court for another 30 years. With as many as three vacancies on the nine-member Court opening up in the next four year, Mitt Romney could do untold damage to working women across America.


Antonin Scalia, Barack Obama, Clarence Thomas, Election 2012, Ledbetter v. Goodyear, Lilly Ledbetter, Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Mitt Romney, Romney Court, Supreme Court