An introduction to Constitutional Law 100 Supreme Court cases everyone should know

Randy E. Barnett & Josh Blackman

Sharron Frontiero was a Lieutenant in the Air Force. She requested certain benefits from the government for her husband, who was a full-time student. The Air Force would have automatically granted those benefits to the wife of a male service member. However, Sharron Frontiero’s request was “denied because she failed to demonstrate that her husband was dependent on her for more than one-half of his support.” This sex-based classification imposed additional burdens on female service members.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued Frontiero on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union. She contended that the law was premised on a stereotype: the government “assumes that all women are preoccupied with home and children.” Such stereotypes, she explained, “help keep [a] woman in her place, a place inferior to that occupied by men in our society.” Therefore, Ginsburg urged “the Court to declare sex a suspect” classification, which would be reviewed with strict scrutiny.

Frontiero did not have a majority opinion, in which five Justices agreed on a single rationale.

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