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The guarantee of equal protection of the laws extends to women as well as men. Yet for the first 100 years of the Fourteenth Amendment’s life, the Supreme Court never found a law unconstitutional on the grounds that it discriminated on the basis of sex. Between 1970 and 1980, social movement advocacy and brilliant litigation by Ruth Bader Ginsburg and others changed our constitutional law. Cases beginning with Reed v. Reed demonstrated that in important respects, sex was like race: familiar justifications for excluding women rested on stereotypes that denied individuals the opportunity to compete and relegated women to secondary status in American society. Over the course of the decade, the Court extended the anti-stereotyping principle from discrimination on the basis of race to discrimination on the basis of sex.
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