5.6: Reading Supreme Court Dissents Aloud

Each term (the time period from the first Monday in October to late June/early July), the United States Supreme Court decides between 70 and 80 cases and there are dissents in 60% of them. A dissent or dissenting opinion is a statement by a judge expressing and explaining disagreement with the Court's majority opinion.

Occasionally, but notably, these dissents are read aloud from the bench by a dissenting justice. The impacts of a read aloud can be far-reaching.

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The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) produced one of the Court’s most dramatic dissent read alouds in the famous gender pay discrimination case, Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company (2007).

In 1999, Lilly Ledbetter sued her employer, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company on the grounds that she had been receiving lower pay than her male coworkers for 19 years. She won a $3.8 million settlement in federal court. However, the Supreme Court (by a 5 to 4 vote) reversed that decision, saying Ledbetter’s claim had not been made within a 180 day time charging period.

Ginsburg, the only woman justice on the Court at the time, dissented passionately, declaring that the Court “did not comprehend or is indifferent to the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.”

Two years later, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 that reversed the Supreme Court’s decision. Ginsburg's dissent is credited as providing the political and social momentum needed to enact this major milestone in the quest for equal rights for women.

In this activity, you will listen to Ruth Bader Ginsburg's famous dissent spoken aloud and consider how hearing a dissent spoken directly by a Supreme Court justice might influence people's thinking.

Activity: Evaluate the Impact of Spoken Words in Supreme Court Dissents

Additional Resources

Connecting to the eBook

Building Democracy for All: Do Supreme Court Dissents Make a Difference to the Law?

Connecting to the Standards