Starring: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Jack Reynor, Cailee Spaeny, Sam Waterson, Kathy Bates
OUR RATING: ★★★½
Bio-drama directed by Mimi Leder based on the true life story of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The story follows young lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) as she teams with her husband Marty (Armie Hammer) to bring a groundbreaking case before the Supreme Court and overturn a century of gender discrimination.
Our Favorite Quote:'A court ought not be affected by the weather of the day, but will be by the climate of the era.' - Professor Freund (On the Basis of Sex) Click To Tweet
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: [referring to her dresses] Which one makes me look more like a Harvard man?
Martin Ginsburg: I’m thrilled to report that you look nothing like a Harvard man.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Seriously, it’s the dean’s dinner, Marty. You know how I am at these things. I need to make a good impression.
Martin Ginsburg: And you will, Kiki, but you’ve got it wrong. It’s not the dress. It’s you.
Erwin Griswold: [at the Harvard dean’s dinner] Esteemed colleagues, ladies. This is only the sixth year women have had the privilege to earn a Harvard law degree. This little soiree is our way of saying welcome. My wife Harriet and I are very glad all nine of you have joined us. Let us go around the table, and each of you ladies report who you are, where you’re from, and why you’re occupying a place at Harvard that could have gone to a man.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Uh, I’m Ruth Ginsburg from Brooklyn.
Erwin Griswold: And why are you here, Miss Ginsburg?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Uh, Mrs. Ginsburg, actually. My husband Marty is in the second-year class. I’m at Harvard to learn more about his work, so I can be a more patient and understanding wife.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: [mocking the dinner she had at Griswold’s] “Come to dinner. The beans will be boiled, the chicken will be stewed, and you will be grilled.” We came to Harvard to be lawyers. Why else?
Martin Ginsburg: It’s truly an asinine question.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: He’s never going to take me seriously.
Martin Ginsburg: No, that’s not true. You’re the smartest person here, and you’re going to be the most prepared. So just stand up and say what you know. At a place like this, that’s all that matters.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: In my experience, even small mistakes are glaring when you stick out.
Martin Ginsburg: Well, then you’re very lucky. Because you are very short.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: [after finding out that Martin has caner] We’re never giving up. You keep working. Keep studying, and Jane will have her father. You will be a lawyer. I am spending my life with you, Martin Ginsburg.
Professor Freund: Judges are bound by precedence, but they cannot ignore cultural change. A court ought not be affected by the weather of the day, but will be by the climate of the era.
Martin Ginsburg: Wait, wait, wait. Say that last part again.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: [reading from her notes] “A court ought not be affected by the weather of the day, but will be by the climate of the era.”
Martin Ginsburg: [referring to Freund] And you’re sure he said that?
[Ruth looks at him]
Martin Ginsburg: Of course. Of course.
[dictating for Ruth to type]
Martin Ginsburg: “The law is never finished. It is a work in progress, and ever will be.”
Greene: [at a job interview] Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Graduating top of your class. Law Review at Harvard and Columbia. I didn’t even know that was possible.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Thank you, Mr. Greene. I’ve worked hard.
Greene: Well, you want some white-shoe firm. Big money cases, complex legal maneuvers…
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: No, I think Bibler and Greene is the perfect fit. You handled the Mercer bankruptcy last year.
Greene: How many have you been to? They all turned you down, right? How many? Maybe ten?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Twelve.
Greene: A woman, a mother, and a Jew to boot. I’m surprised that many let you through the door.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: One sent me to interview for the secretarial pool. Another told me I’d be too busy at bake sales to be effective. One partner closes his clients in the locker room at his club, so he said I’d be out of the loop. Last week, I was told women are too emotional to be lawyers. Then that same afternoon, that a woman graduating top of her class must be a real ballbuster and wouldn’t make a good colleague. I was asked when I’d have my next baby, and whether I keep Shabbat. One interviewer told me I had a sterling résumé, but they hired a woman last year, and what in the world would they want with two of us?
Greene: You must be livid.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Well, my mother told me not to give way to emotions.
Greene: Bullshit. You’re angry. Good. Use it.
Greene: I have to say, Mrs. Ginsburg, I’m very impressed.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Mr. Greene, I want to be a lawyer. I want to represent clients before the court in pursuit of justice. You can see I worked hard through school, I did everything I was supposed to, and I excelled. I swear it, I’ll do the same for you.
Greene: [looks at Ruth for a moment] The fact is that, you know, we’re a close-knit firm, almost like family, and, uh, the wives, they get jealous.
Martin Ginsburg: [pointing to the champagne] Did you get the job? You got the job. That’s wonderful. Oh! So they’re going to give you a corner office, or are you still going to have to jump through some hoops?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: It’s not at Bibler and Greene. I wasn’t what they were looking for.
Martin Ginsburg: That’s okay. I told you one of those other firms would come back. Which one was it?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Clyde Ferguson left his professorship at Rutgers.
Martin Ginsburg: Kiki…
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: They haven’t found another black man to replace him, so someone thought a woman would be the next best thing. Good news.
Martin Ginsburg: You can’t quit. There are more firms out there. This is the biggest city in the most litigious country in the history of the planet. You can still…
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Marty, I got a job. Just open the champagne.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: There are laws that say women can’t work overtime. And that a woman’s social security benefits, unlike her husband’s, don’t provide for her family after death.
Student #1: What?
Student #2: Excuse me?
Student #1: That’s bullshit!
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Ten years ago, Dorothy Kenyon asked a question, “If the law differentiates on the basis of sex, then how will women and men ever become equals?” And the Supreme Court answered, “They won’t.” Hoyt lost her appeal. The decision was unanimous. Discrimination on the basis of sex is legal.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I want to know where you were.
Jane Ginsburg: Denise and I went to a rally to hear Gloria Steinem speak.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: What?
Jane Ginsburg: Gloria Steinem. She’s a writer. She just started her own magazine. She testified in the Senate about…
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Yeah, I know who Gloria Steinem is. What if you got hurt or arrested?
Jane Ginsburg: Mom, it’s a rally, not a riot.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Jane, these things can get out of hand.
Jane Ginsburg: Okay, well, I’m fifteen years-old, and you don’t need to control every minute of my life.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Yes, I do. That is my job, and your job is to go to school and learn.
Jane Ginsburg: Well, Gloria says we need to unlearn the status quo.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Oh, so you’re on a first name basis now?
Jane Ginsburg: You know what, mom? If you want to sit around with your students and talk about how shitty it is to be a girl.
Martin Ginsburg: Hey. Language.
Jane Ginsburg: But don’t pretend it’s a movement, okay? It’s not a movement if everyone’s just sitting. That’s a support group.
Martin Ginsburg: Jane, that’s enough.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: We should get going.
Jane Ginsburg: Yeah, go make yourself pretty for daddy’s party.
Martin Ginsburg: You know what, go to your room.
Jane Ginsburg: Fine.
Tom Maller: Martin Ginsburg will be signing all of our checks someday. You’re a smart girl, Ruthy. You married a star.
Martin Ginsburg: Tom Maller’s barely evolved. He started walking upright last week.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: You always do that.
Martin Ginsburg: What?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: You act like, like it doesn’t matter.
Martin Ginsburg: No.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: But all the little brush-offs, the dismissive pats on the head, it matters, Marty.
Martin Ginsburg: Why? You know what you’re doing is important, so who cares? Okay, fine. Next time my boss gives me a clumsy compliment, I’ll challenge him to a duel. Will that make you happy?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I wouldn’t want to hurt your stellar reputation.
Martin Ginsburg: Just tell me what you want.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Nothing. I want nothing. I want you to go to work and wow your bosses and clients, and be the youngest partner in the history of the firm.
Martin Ginsburg: That’s not fair. That’s not fair, and you know it.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Then I want you to walk me home, Marty, so I can sit in my corner and write a lesson plan to inspire the next generation of students…
Martin Ginsburg: No one’s put you in the corner.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: …to go forth and fight for equality.
Martin Ginsburg: I don’t understand why you’re acting like that’s such a bad thing. You’re out there training the next generation of lawyers to change the world.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Because that’s what I wanted to do!
Martin Ginsburg: [referring to the document] Page twenty-one.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I don’t read tax court cases.
Martin Ginsburg: Read this one. The IRS denied a petitioner a tax deduction to hire a nurse to take care of an invalid mother.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Sounds like a real page turner.
Martin Ginsburg: Ask me why.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Marty, I have a lecture to write.
Martin Ginsburg: Hm. Okay.
[turns to leave]
Martin Ginsburg: It’s because the petitioner is a man.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: [after reading the tax court case] Marty, Section 214 of the tax code assumes a caregiver has to be a woman. This is sex based discrimination against a man.
Martin Ginsburg: Poor guy.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: If a federal court ruled that this law is unconstitutional, then it could become the precedent others refer to and build on. Men and women both. It could topple the whole damn system of discrimination.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: What?
Martin Ginsburg: Nothing. I’m just thrilled at your newfound enthusiasm for tax law.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Marty. Oh, Marty. We need to take this case.
Mel Wulf: You said you had a case. This is not a case, this is the opening salvo on a fifty year war for a new class of civil rights.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Yes, exactly.
Mel Wulf: I can’t do this. This is beyond my mandate.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: American Civil Liberties Union? Women’s rights are civil rights.
Mel Wulf: I’m still getting flack for defending draft card burners. And the right to protest actually exists.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Mel, you must see the opportunity this case represents.
Mel Wulf: You think the judges are going to be sympathetic just because they all have prostates? Men and women all eat at the same lunch counters, they drink at the same water fountains, they go to the same schools…
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Women can’t attend Dartmouth.
Mel Wulf: Men can’t go to Smith.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Women police officers can’t patrol New York City streets. We have to get credit cards in our husbands names.
Mel Wulf: You’re not a minority. You’re fifty-one percent of the population! And it’s been tried. Muller, Goesaert. Uh, what’s the other one? The one with the woman with the baseball bat.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Gwendolyn Hoyt.
Mel Wulf: Gwendolyn Hoyt. Exactly.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Yeah, and morally, they were right.
Mel Wulf: Yet they lost. Ruth, morality does not win the day. Look around you. Dorothy Kenyon could not get women equality by arguing a case with sex, murder and prison time on the line. You and Marty think you’re going to do it with this guy and his taxes?
Charles Moritz: I’m a salesman, Mrs. Ginsburg, and I know when I’m being sold.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: With due respect, you have two hundred and ninety-six dollars at issue. I’m not here for the money. We’d represent your appeal pro bono if you’ll let us.
Charles Moritz: So the judge was wrong?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Mr. Moritz, the law is wrong.
Charles Moritz: If it’s not for the money, why are you here?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution says all people must be treated equally under the law. Yet there are, I don’t know how many laws, like the caregiver deduction that say, in effect, women stay home, men go to work, and that it should stay that way forever. I want to convince the federal courts that those laws are unconstitutional.
Charles Moritz: How do you do that?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: One case at a time. Starting with yours.
Charles Moritz: So I’m a guinea pig?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: No, sir. You’re the man marching out ahead of the band, leading the way. Just like that drum major you used to be.
[referring to Ruth and Jane fighting over Jane’s essay]
Martin Ginsburg: Please tell me you aren’t going fifteen rounds over To Kill a Mockingbird.
Jane Ginsburg: Daddy, can you please tell mom that Atticus Finch can be a role model.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: He covers up Bob Ewell’s murder. He’s a terrible lawyer!
Jane Ginsburg: Why? Because you say so?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: No, not me. Canon one of the American Bar Association’s Model Code of Responsibility.
Jane Ginsburg: What are you talking about?!
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: It’s called legal ethics.
Jane Ginsburg: Well, you’d do exactly the same thing if you actually had a heart.
[Jane storms off in anger and goes to her room]
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I don’t know where she gets her stubbornness.
Martin Ginsburg: Can’t imagine.
Jane Ginsburg: [referring to Ruth] I can be as tough as she is. She’s a bully. And she needs everyone to know how smart she is.
Martin Ginsburg: Do you want mom to stop being smart?
Jane Ginsburg: I want her to stop rubbing it in everyone’s face all the time.
Martin Ginsburg: Grandma Celia died when mom was about your age. But up until her dying breath, they would read together, debate ideas together, and she taught your mom to question everything. She’s not trying to bully you, Jane. She just doesn’t want you to feel small. She wants to give you what her mom taught her. That’s how she shows her heart.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I’m arguing a case. Sex discrimination violates the Equal Protection principle.
Dorothy Kenyon: Equal Protection was coined to grant equality to the N*gro, a task at which it has dismally failed. What makes you think women would fare any better?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Please, if we could just talk for…
Dorothy Kenyon: You want to know how I blew it, is that it? What I’d do differently? Why? You think you can change the country?
[referring to the Ruth’s daughter, Jane]
Dorothy Kenyon: You should look to her generation. They’re taking to the streets, demanding change, like we did when we fought for the vote. Our mistake was thinking we’d won. We started asking, “please”, as if civil rights were sweets to be handed out by judges.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Protests are important, but changing the culture means nothing if the law doesn’t change. As a lawyer, you must believe that.
Dorothy Kenyon: Let me guess. You’re a professor, aren’t you? Yeah. Ton of knowledge and no smarts.
Dorothy Kenyon: You want advice? Here it is. Tell your client she won’t find equality in a courtroom.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: My client’s name is Charles Moritz.
Dorothy Kenyon: That’s cute.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: He hired a nurse to take care of his mother, but he was denied a caregiver deduction on his taxes.
Dorothy Kenyon: He’s never been married. You found a bachelor taking care of his mother at home. The judges will be repulsed by him.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Feeling anything is a start.
Dorothy Kenyon: What did you say your name was?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Dorothy Kenyon: Well, sorry, Professor Ginsburg. Maybe someday, but the country isn’t ready. Change minds first, then change the law. If you’ll excuse me, the mayor’s decided to rename the neighborhood. So now a developer is kicking thirty families out of the building he abandoned ten years ago. SoHo. Who ever heard of such a ridiculous thing?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: It’s what Professor Freund said at Harvard. “A court ought not be affected by the weather of the day, but will be by the climate of the era.”
Martin Ginsburg: Okay, so we’re not going back and refighting old cases?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: No, we’re arguing that the precedents should no longer apply.
Martin Ginsburg: Right. But, Ruth, Freund was talking about Brown v. the Board of Education. That’s a once in a generation case.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Yeah, and we’re the next generation.
Erwin Griswold: Gender equality as a civil right?
Professor Brown: When everyone’s aggrieved and everyone’s a victim. It’s what the ACLU does, divide the country into smaller and smaller subgroups.
Professor Brown: Martin Ginsburg was one of my best students, a practical young man. We can call him and tell him, we’ll give the man his money, and go our separate ways.
Erwin Griswold: No. No. We settle now, it’s open season. Let’s put this idea of gender discrimination to bed once and for all. They handed us a winnable case.
Professor Brown: Then we’ll win it.
Erwin Griswold: The Ginsburgs are asking him to make law. We need to drive home the difference.
Professor Brown: Paint the judges a picture of the America that will exist if they rule the wrong way. Children running home from school to find no one’s there. Mommy’s at the office, or on a factory floor.
Erwin Griswold: Man and woman vie for the same job, she can work for less. What is a man without a paycheck to take care of his family?
Professor Brown: What woman would want him?
Jim Bozarth: Wages would go down. Divorce rates would soar. The very fabric of our society would begin to unravel.
Professor Brown: Exactly. The other side wants this to be about the Equal Protection principle.
Erwin Griswold: The judges are deciding what kind of country, what kind of society they want their children and grandchildren to grow up in. You make sure the court sees what’s at stake is the American family.
Parker: Get this. There’s a law that we’re not allowed to fly military cargo planes.
Protest Leader: It says here that we’re not allowed to work in mines.
Burton: Why would you want to?
Jane Ginsburg: Well, that’s not the point. We should be allowed.
Parker: You really think you can change all those laws?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: That’s the plan.
Mel Wulf: You’re making the wrong case.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: These are laws written by men who think we are privileged to be excused from men’s obligations. But it is not a privilege, it is a cage, and these laws are the bars!
Mel Wulf: So, that’s it? You’re going to take them all on at the same time?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: You asked the questions.
Mel Wulf: Well, it doesn’t mean you have to fucking answer them, Ruth. You’re making the government’s case for them. Look, you either make this case about one man, or you lose. Because to the judges, you’re not talking about women in the abstract. You’re talking about their wives, at home, you know, baking briskets.
Jane Ginsburg: You braise a brisket. You don’t bake it.
Mel Wulf: Ernie Brown called this morning. In light of Reed going to the Supreme Court, the government wants to settle the Moritz case for a dollar.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Reed ups the profile of our case. They’re getting nervous.
Mel Wulf: I told them you’d be in DC on Monday to sign the paperwork.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Why would you say that? Charlie won’t want to settle.
Mel Wulf: Well, convince him.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I will not. First, you took half the argument away from me…
Mel Wulf: Nobody took anything away from you, Ruth. You weren’t robbed in the middle of the night. Alright, I was giving you this opportunity for the good of the cause.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: You think you gave this to me?
Mel Wulf: In fact, I did. And get your emotions in check.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: You first.
Mel Wulf: Allen is going to be arguing in the Supreme Court that times have changed. We can’t afford the Tenth Circuit saying that they haven’t.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Nothing would strengthen the argument more than the appeals court deciding for Charlie.
Mel Wulf: Yes, that would be very nice, but here in the real world, with working lawyers…
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: You think I can’t be persuasive?
Mel Wulf: Oh, I’ve never been more certain about anything in my life, Ruth.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: You don’t get to tell me when to quit.
Mel Wulf: You couldn’t even make it through moot court without embarrassing yourself. You will lose, Ruth. And when you do, you will set the women’s movement back ten years. More. We are dodging a bullet here. Are you the only one that can’t see that?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I had this idea.
Martin Ginsburg: What’s that?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Well, it doesn’t matter now.
Martin Ginsburg: Tell me.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: We could have taken Appendix E from the government’s brief, that entire comprehensive list of laws that differentiates between the sexes, and turn it into our own hit list. We could have started a special project at the ACLU to go after those laws one by one, in the legislature, in the courts, until women and men were genuinely equal under the law. And I’ve been running around claiming things have changed.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I know that this case, that I disrupted our lives, and I’m sorry.
Jane Ginsburg: Sorry for what? For doing your job? Who is it for, if not for me?
Martin Ginsburg: You’re ready for this. You’ve been ready for this your whole life, so go in there and let the judges see the Ruth Ginsburg I know.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: [arguing her case in court] A generation ago, my students would have been arrested for indecency for wearing the clothes that they do. Sixty-five years ago, it would have been unimaginable that my daughter would aspire to a career. And a hundred years ago, I would not have the right to stand before you. There are a hundred and seventy-eight laws that differentiate on the basis of sex. Count them. The government did the favor of compiling them for you. And while you’re at it, I urge you to read them. They’re obstacles to our children’s aspirations.
Judge: You’re asking us to overturn nearly a century of precedent.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I’m asking you to set a new precedent, as courts have done before when the law is outdated.
Judge: But in those cases, the courts had a clear constitutional handle. The word “woman” does not appear even once in the US Constitution.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Nor does the word “freedom”, Your Honor.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: [addressing the judges in court] We’re not asking you to change the country. That’s already happened without any court’s permission. We’re asking you to protect the right of the country to change. Our sons and daughters are barred by law from opportunities based on assumptions about their abilities. How will they ever disprove these assumptions if laws like Section 214 are allowed to stand? We all must take these laws on, one by one, for as long as it takes, for their sakes. You have the power to set the precedent that will get us started. You can right this wrong. We rest our case on our briefs and argument, and ask that you reverse the tax court’s decision.
[after delivering her case to the court]
Mel Wulf: That was perfect.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: We don’t even know who won.
Mel Wulf: Doesn’t matter. It was right.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: This is just the beginning.
[he kisses her cheek]
Mel Wulf: I’m going to go gloat.
Martin Ginsburg: You did it.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: We did it.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: [real voice] Laws of this quality help to keep women not on a pedestal, but in a cage.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: [real voice] Sarah Grimké said, “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”