04/28/2009 01:46 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Fair Judges Needed to Win Fair Pay

The Lilly Ledbetter Act returned the law to what it had been for decades, before the Supreme Court intervened.

Now we need to pass new legislation the Paycheck Fairness Act S. 182 - and stand up for judges who uphold the Constitution and the law to provide equal justice for all, not just a few.

Today, April 28, 2009, is Equal Pay Day. Today marks the point when the average woman's wages finally catch up with what the average man earned last year.

Women still earn only 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man, and for women of color, the numbers are even worse. Equal Pay Day is an important reminder of this persistent wage gap and the urgent need to take action to ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work.

We've made some progress in the fight for equal pay - the first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. That law reversed a damaging Supreme Court decision, which had severly limited the rights of women challenging discriminatory pay..

But the Ledbetter legislation just returned the law to what it had been for decades, before the Roberts Court interfered. We need to pass new legislation to win the fight for fair pay.

The Senate must pass the Paycheck Fairness Act S. 182, a vital next step toward achieving equal pay for equal work by amending the Equal Pay Act. President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act 45 years ago, making it illegal for employers to pay women less than men for the same work. But loopholes in the law and weak enforcement from the courts allowed many discriminatory practices to continue. The Paycheck Fairness Act addresses these concerns and equips women with the necessary tools with which to fight unequal pay.

This fight for justice has been a long one. We are all grateful for the courageous women who are willing to demand fairness. Lilly Ledbetter, who worked at Goodyear Tire in Gadsden, Alabama, never gave up the fight, despite enormous odds and personal sacrifice. She stood up for millions of working Americans, even though she will not personally benefit from the law that bears her name. Lilly Ledbetter and many others like her show that we can win if we are willing to fight back.

My first major case as a young lawyer showed me the determination it takes for women to stand up for their rights.

It was a class action lawsuit on behalf of dozens of women, who felt they had been passed over for managerial jobs at a major computer manufacturer just because they were women. They were right.

The company knew that if they lost they would have hundreds of women bringing similar suits, so they fought hard, backed by a big and well-known law firm. The judge hearing my case was a Republican appointed by Richard Nixon. Though I knew this might make the case more difficult, I counted on his reputation for fairness.

Weeks went by after we made our arguments in front of him. Then one day, his clerk called. He said, as if it was routine - "Judge Joiner's decided. He's entering the order certifying class action."

Now, I would like to take credit for making a great argument, but really the case was open and shut. The credit goes to the judge who upheld the Constitution and the law to provide equal justice for everyone America, not just a few at the top.

I knew that as long as we could make the case that this Republican appointee would at least give the women who faced discrimination a fair chance.

But not any longer. The Supreme Court and Appeals Courts have been stacked in recent years with judges who rule based on their own political agenda that favors a few at the top instead of providing equal justice and protecting personal freedoms for all. That was the Court that denied justice to Lilly Ledbetter.

When the facts about Ledbetter's case came to light, and people saw her courage and willingness to stand up for justice, it struck a nerve and moved us all to get Congress to pass the Fair Pay Act.

Let's finish the job, and urge the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. And while we're at it, ask them to confirm highly qualified judges who will uphold the Constitution and the law to provide equal justice and protect personal freedoms for everyone in America, not just a few.