RBG’s First Supreme Court Case

UAP was saddened to hear of the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last week. You may be surprised to learn that Ginsburg made her first appearance before the Supreme Court while arguing a case with Alabama ties.

The case was Frontiero v. Richardson (1973) — a landmark decision that stated benefits given by the United States military to the family of service members cannot be distributed differently because of sex. As director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, future Justice Ginsburg argued in favor of Sharron Frontiero – a lieutenant serving as a physical therapist, stationed on Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.

This case and its implications are detailed in the new book Alabama Justice: The Cases and Faces That Changed a Nation by Steven P. Brown. Brown’s book examines the legacies of eight momentous US Supreme Court decisions that have their origins in Alabama legal disputes.

Below is a short excerpt in which Brown details Ginsburg’s captivating oral arguments in the case:

The second significant thing to occur during the Frontiero oral arguments was Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s debut before the Supreme Court. As director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, she would go on to argue six landmark gender-related cases before the Supreme Court, prevailing in five of them. Relatedly, and the third thing that made the oral arguments in Frontiero particularly memorable, was that during Ginsburg’s presentation, the entire bench was quiet.

Oral arguments before the Supreme Court consist of lawyers from both sides standing before a wooden lectern in front of the nine justices and pleading their case for typically thirty minutes per side. Because the case arrives on appeal, there can be hundreds of pages of briefs, lower court opinions, and other materials that the justices and their clerks have reviewed prior to oral arguments.

With so much information already in possession of the justices and with so little time to present their position, attorneys at oral argument know they must focus only on the key aspects of their case. That task is made considerably more difficult, however, by the fact that the justices constantly interrupt oral arguments to pose questions of counsel. What usually follows is a rapid-fire exchange as attorneys respond to questions while desperately trying to stay on track and make their point before their allotted time runs out.

In Frontiero, the justices interrupted Levin twenty-one times and Huntington nearly fifty times during their combined fifty minutes before the Court. But at Ginsburg’s first appearance before the Supreme Court, the justices were silent as she argued that gender discrimination deserved strict scrutiny consideration. “Sex, like race,” she explained, “is a visible, immutable characteristic, bearing no necessary relationship to a body. Sex, like race, has been made the basis for unjustified, or at least unproved, assumptions concerning an individual’s potential to perform or contribute to society.” For ten uninterrupted minutes, Ginsburg captivated the Court while challenging the justices to protect Frontiero and all women from discriminatory laws and policies.

For further reading on Ginsburg’s career, see Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Legacy of Dissent: Feminist Rhetoric and the Law by Katie L. Gibson, a rhetorical analysis of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s feminist jurisprudence


The University of Alabama Press is pleased to announce that Polacos in Argentina: Polish Jews, Interwar Migration, and the Emergence of Transatlantic Jewish Culture by Mariusz Kałczewiak is the recipient of the 2020 best book award from the Latin American Jewish Studies Association.

Polacos in Argentina is an examination of the social and cultural repercussions of Jewish emigration from Poland to Argentina in the 1920s and 1930s. Based on archival research, Yiddish travelogues on Argentina, and the Yiddish and Spanish-language press, this study recreates a mosaic of entanglements that Jewish migration wove between Poland and Argentina.

The LAJSA committee had this to say of the book:

Kałczewiak has gone far beyond writing an excellent study of transatlantic migrant cultures. Through pathbreaking, multi-archive, multilingual research Polacos in Argentina transforms our understanding of transnational Jewish and Yiddish cultures. As the best studies always do, this book transcends its specific topics to offer new insights into how scholars might understand the movement of peoples across multiple borders, and how long term migrations come to transform both destination societies and the places from which the migrants originally came.

The LAJSA award committee requested that the award be presented to two authors this year as a special exception. UAP is proud to share this prestigious award with a fellow university press title, Laura Limonic’s, Kugel and Frijoles: Latino Jews in the United States published by Wayne State University Press.

Kałczewiak is senior research associate and lecturer in the Slavic Studies department at the University of Potsdam. His scholarship has appeared in American Jewish History, The New Ethnic Studies in Latin America, and Studia Judaica.

Polacos in Argentina is currently available for 40% off on orders placed on UAP’s website. Readers can use code POLACOS40 at checkout to receive the discount.

New in Paper: Feeding Cahokia


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Gayle Fritz’s Feeding Cahokia: Early Agriculture in the North American Heartland, a thorough and accessible overview of farming and food practices at Cahokia, is now available in paperback.

This highly accessible narrative presents evidence to demonstrate that the emphasis on corn has created a distorted picture of Cahokia’s agricultural practices. Farming at Cahokia was biologically diverse and, as such, less prone to risk than was maize-dominated agriculture. Fritz shows that the division between the so-called elites and commoners simplifies and misrepresents the statuses of farmers—a workforce consisting of adult women and their daughters who belonged to kin groups crosscutting all levels of the Cahokian social order. Many farmers had considerable influence and decision-making authority, and they were valued for their economic contributions, their skills, and their expertise in all matters relating to soils and crops.

Little barley plants (Hordeum pusillum) growing wild in Cross County, northeastern Arkansas

Fritz, an internationally known paleoethnobotanist, highlights the biologically diverse agricultural system by focusing on plants, such as erect knotweed, chenopod, and maygrass, which were domesticated in the midcontinent and grown by generations of farmers before Cahokia Mounds grew to be the largest Native American population center north of Mexico. Fritz also looks at traditional farming systems to apply strategies that would be helpful to modern agriculture, including reviving wild and weedy descendants of these lost crops for redomestication.

With a wealth of detail on specific sites, traditional foods, artifacts such as famous figurines, and color photos of significant plants, Feeding Cahokia will satisfy both scholars and interested readers. And for a limited time, readers can enjoy 50% off the new paperback edition (as well as the ebook) by using code SAA2020 at checkout or by calling 800-621-2736.

Mound 51, reconstructed, looking south from field east of Monks Mound