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Reed v. Reed


REED V. REED, 404 U.S. 71 (1971), a case deriving from a provision of Idaho probate law preferring men as administrators of the estate of a deceased child, was the first in a series of 1970s cases associated with the future Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that successfully challenged laws discriminating on the basis of sex. The case arose when Sally Reed sought to serve as administrator of her deceased teenage son's meager estate. Challenged by her divorced husband Cecil Reed, the boy's father, the case made its way through the Idaho courts to the Supreme Court. Writing the brief, Ginsburg argued that legislative classification by sex served no compelling state interest in this instance. Furthermore, it violated the right of Sally Reed to the even-handed application of governmental action guaranteed by the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In a unanimous decision, the Court agreed, although the justices differed as to whether the decision encouraged stricter scrutiny of legislation that discriminated on the basis of sex. Subsequent decisions, however, would confirm that Reed marked the beginning of a major effort, using equal protection analysis, to make the law gender neutral.


Rhode, Deborah L. Justice and Gender: Sex Discrimination and the Law. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989.

Jane SherronDe Hart

See alsoCivil Rights and Liberties ; Discrimination: Sex ; Equal Protection of the Law .

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