By: Archiebald Faller Capila
“A Court ought not be affected by the weather of the day but will be by the climate of the era.”
As simple as the quote may be, the same nonetheless breezes through the minds of everyone who has come across the line through a friend or a teacher. First heard from Professor Freund of Harvard Law, the same line was eventually repeated by the main characters of the movie which then led to a clear message to all aspiring lawyers—change is inevitable if the people are willing to fight for their respective causes.
Primarily promoted as a biopic of the great Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Mimi Leder’s inspirational film On the Basis of Sex was more than just that. If you are just expecting a movie about Justice Ginsburg and her eventual rise to power, then you are in for a surprise because On the Basis of Sex ventures deeper than the great Justice’s story. It is a movie about conflict, justice, discrimination, and eventual character development not only for the protagonist but for everyone else in the movie.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg serves as one of the more prominent pillars of the United States Supreme Court before she passed away earlier this year. She was a beacon of hope and change with respect to equality for all. She advocated protection of civil liberties while remaining true to her roots as a woman of brilliance and sheer will. Her charisma never fails to capture the imagination and respect not only of her peers but of her critics as well. However, the stellar career that Justice Ginsburg had did not start with bright lights and a formidable reputation. Justice Ginsburg’s career started at the sacred halls of Harvard Law School.
What used to be an institution for men and men alone, Harvard Law School has been proud of its history in producing the best and most brilliant legal minds the world has ever seen. However, the same tradition was induced to change and that is where Ruth Ginsburg’s life starts as a future member of the legal profession. Being part of the pioneer batch which included women, Ruth Ginsburg quickly rose to the ranks and was recognized as the brightest of her peers. However, due to some circumstances surrounding his husband, Martin David Ginsburg, Ruth transferred to another esteemed law school in Columbia Law. In which, she again proved to be the brightest among her peers.
However, amidst her success academically, she was not able to land a job at the firms she considered working for. Because of the apparent discrimination, firms did not hire her amidst her exemplary and stellar performance in law school. However, Ruth Ginsburg did not give up and eventually pursued her passion to mold the minds of the future instead—she became a professor.
In her venture towards teaching her students the essence and spirit of the law, she honed her mastery in the line of equal protection. She became an expert in women’s rights. She became very knowledgeable about equal rights for all. Along the way, she then handled a tax case that her husband discovered and eventually brought the same to Court so as to enforce equal protection—a doctrine which would eventually pave the way to several landmark cases under her belt.
While the movie discussed the life of Justice Ginsburg as a student of the law, as a law professor, and eventually a respected counsel for equal rights victims, the same movie also dwells on what problems we are encountering as a society.
On the Basis of Sex reminds us that while there are a lot of fights and battles that focus on the prioritization of equal rights, it cannot be denied that there are still some people who continue to disregard the same. There are still some people who do not understand the plight of the minority. There are still some people who believe that inequality does not exist. There are still some people who quickly dismiss a fight of a specific group just because they are not affected or they just do not care at all.
In the movie, one would eventually see the disparity between gender roles as imposed by society. It clearly depicts several angles on how certain rights are affected because some people refrain from changing their mindset just because they believe that nothing is wrong with the status quo. Privilege is a thing they cling on to the most—privilege is a thing that they often mishandle and misuse.
Felicity Jones, the actress who played Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, delivered a superb performance that captures not only the story of the stellar justice herself but of the lives of those around her as well. Armie Hammer, the actor who played Martin Ginsburg, executed his lines perfectly and delivered a moving performance on how a husband can be supportive of his wife. He had a flawless outing in balancing work and family relations that eventually led to his eye-catching exchanges with Felicity Jones.
We all know Justice Ginsburg as the woman who almost everyone bows down to. Her brilliance and wits seem to be unmatched and her conviction and moral compass remain to be intact and entertaining as well. However, the movie does not portray such a character but instead, it shows a humane and struggling young lawyer who is a woman in a world of men.
But amidst all the hardships and misplaced stereotypes, she surpassed them all and eventually gained the trust of her seniors and even the sitting Justices of the Court before which she delivered her statements for her client. One of the more striking lines in the film goes “If the law differentiates between people on the basis of sex, then how will women and men ever become equals?”. This line is the heart and soul of the movie. It encapsulates the essence of what the minority is fighting for and how the same is resolved throughout the process.
What’s more striking is how Justice Ginsburg’s daughter played a large part in opening her eyes. Being a vocal advocate of various rights and by taking the fight to the streets, Justice Ginsburg was at first in opposition to the same, believing that students should go to school to study and learn. Her daughter then strikes a lesson that the real lessons are out there in the streets as well. Seeing how much her daughter has grown, fighting a real fight and becoming the strong independent woman that she is, Justice Ginsburg realized that the world is changing and the people must change with it too.
Accordingly, the same is what drove Justice Ginsburg to explain that without radical reform, there can be no progress. Without reform, women would not be allowed to practice law. Without reform, certain inequalities will remain afloat. Without reform, injustice will remain rampant. Without reform, only a few people will truly feel like justice is for all and the law does not look down on anyone—that it is meant for equal opportunity for all.
On the Basis of Sex is a good reminder that no matter what you do as a law student, you must remain true to your cause. You must be reminded that you are an instrument to achieve justice. You are a beacon of hope. You are meant to serve those who have less in life for they are the ones who must have more in law.
As mentioned, “A Court ought not to be affected by the weather of the day but will be by the climate of the era.” A generation of future lawyers who will fight a good fight will not only be the climate of the era but the storm that will last ages—a storm that is beneficial not only to the legal profession but to all the people as well.