Ginsburg for Women's Total Legal Equality : Justice: Nominee says they also have right to choose abortion. Fathers shouldn't have equal voice, she asserts.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Supreme Court nominee Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Wednesday that she strongly supports a woman's right to full legal equality as well as the right to choose abortion, but she disputed the notion that fathers are due equal rights in determining the fate of an unborn fetus.

"It's her body, her life," Judge Ginsburg said of the prospective mother. "Men are not similarly situated. They don't bear the children.

"It is essential to a woman's equality with man that she be the decision-maker, that her choice be controlling," she said. "If you impose restraints and disadvantage her, you are disadvantaging her because of her sex."

Even if states pass laws restricting her choice about abortion or giving an equal voice to fathers, the Constitution protects the woman's right "to make basic decisions about one's life course," Ginsburg said.

Her comments came during a second day of hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which President Clinton's nominee shied away from taking clear stands on most issues.

Senators asked her to spell out her views on the death penalty, religion and free speech but Ginsburg politely refused. She insisted that she did not want to announce her positions or appear to have decided a disputed issue before joining the court.

Whatever her personal bias, however, she said she would make her Supreme Court decisions based on the law, precedent and discussion with her colleagues in which she would urge a consensus rather than a split decision on any given issue.

But her views on women's rights proved to be another matter. As a former ACLU general counsel during the 1970s, Ginsburg made her reputation in legal circles as an advocate for women's rights and she made clear that she would carry that position to the high court.

Currently, the court's position is that laws which discriminate based on gender should be subjected to a "heightened scrutiny" and are presumed to be unconstitutional. Under this standard, however, some discriminatory policies can still stand, such as the Congress' decision to limit the draft to men.

But Ginsburg indicated Wednesday that she favors the even stricter standard used in race cases that would forbid all legal discrimination based on gender. She also strongly hinted that she would oppose permitting public funds to be given to single-sex schools or colleges.

Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), whose state includes the Citadel, an all-male military college, urged Ginsburg to consider the virtues of single-sex education. But she sidetracked the inquiry and instead said that she continues to believe in "full equality" of the genders.

Recently, the high court let stand a ruling outlawing the male-only admissions policy at the tax-supported Virginia Military Institute, a decision that may prove to be the death knell for single-sex schools in the public sector.

Ginsburg acknowledged that the authors of the 14th Amendment--passed in 1868 to give blacks equal rights--did not intend to give equality to women. Moreover, the required 38 states failed to add the equal rights amendment to the Constitution during the 1970s.

Nonetheless, Ginsburg, who supported the equal rights amendment, said that she favors a "bold change" at the Supreme Court that would make women fully equal under the law.

"Yes, it took bold and dynamic interpretation from what the framers of the Constitution intended," she conceded.

Her enthusiastic endorsement of the court's changing the prevailing view of the Constitution prompted several Republican senators to worry aloud about "judicial activism" on Ginsburg's part. None, however, have said they would vote against her confirmation.

Despite half a dozen questions over two days, Ginsburg refused to spell out when such judicial activism is justified and when it is not.

"I have to avoid responding to hypotheticals because they might prove not to be so hypothetical," she told Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.).

Committee members said they expected to complete their questioning of Ginsburg today.

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