Reed, from Boise, had been divorced from her husband for some time when the couple’s son committed suicide. The son left a small estate—less than $500 and a record collection. Sally Reed and her ex-husband each filed a petition with the probate court to administer that estate. Idaho law was very clear on how that should be decided. When both parties were equally qualified in such a matter, “the male must be preferred over the female.” The judge ruled in favor of Mr. Reed.
The sum was small, but the principle was large. Boise attorney Allen Derr agreed to represent Mrs. Reed. By the time the case worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, Idaho had changed its statutes eliminating preferences for males, but that didn’t make a decision less important.
While Derr argued the case, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the principle author of the brief that went before the Supreme Court. The decision was unanimous in favor of Sally Reed. It was a landmark case, the first where gender discrimination was declared unconstitutional because it denies equal protection.
Reed and the famous decision are memorialized at the site of her former home on the corner of W. Vista Ave. and Dorian St in Boise.
For a story about Allen Derr and the famous case, check the Boise Weekly.