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Class argument

Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in On the Basis of Sex (© 2018 Storyteller Distribution Co., LLC.)


Class argument

On the Basis of Sex spotlights Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s fight against sex discrimination

Pro-lifers might find inspiration in the new biopic about liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. On the Basis of Sex focuses on the 1972 landmark case Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue that Ginsburg, then a law professor, successfully argued. Ginsburg exposed how scores of federal laws discriminated against an entire class of people—women. Her brilliant tactic? The client she took on, Charles Moritz, was a man.

Moritz was caring for his dependent invalid mother, but wasn’t entitled to deduct expenses for her care from his taxes. Federal law allowed all women and some men to take the deduction, but not a single man who had never married—like Moritz. In short, Ginsburg’s win forced courts to recognize that sex discrimination existed and to declare it unconstitutional.

Ginsburg’s home life was unlike Moritz’s. She was married and had one of her two children before she entered Harvard Law School in 1956. Ginsburg (played by Felicity Jones) persevered through scorn at school and discrimination when job-hunting, as the film details at length. But she and her husband, Martin (Armie Hammer), if the film tells it right, enjoyed a sweet marriage. Martin, a tax attorney who served as co-counsel on Moritz, often cooked meals, was involved with their kids, and supported his wife’s aspirations. Watching, I wondered: If men treated women as Martin did Ruth, would women have fought to legalize abortion?

Given Ginsburg’s liberal track record, it’s surprising that nothing in On the Basis of Sex (rated PG-13 for some foul language and suggestive content) promotes abortion. The film ends with the Moritz decision, which came a year before Roe v. Wade and 35 years before Ginsburg defended partial-birth abortion in her dissenting opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart, the case that upheld a ban on the brutal procedure. Perhaps the film will inspire a young, pro-life Ruth (or Martin) to make the case Ginsburg didn’t and end (age? ability?) discrimination against another class of people: unborn children.


  • Graced
    Posted: Wed, 01/23/2019 03:28 pm

    I'm glad the reviewer highlighted the way the movie depicted their marriage. Watching it, I thought it was a sweet personal story parallel to the courtroom drama story. Later, as I read about the movie to determine what was factual and what was Hollywood, I was even more impressed. Ginsburg herself insisted on including her husband's role in the case. It seems clear from everything I've read that they were partners to the end when he died in 2010.