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RBG’s legacy: Fighting gender discrimination from both sides of the bench

Left: Felicity Jones stars as Ruth Bader Ginsburg (shown at right during her confirmation hearings for the U. S. Supreme Court in July 1993) in "On the Basis of Sex."

Throughout the history of our nation, the legacies of Supreme Court Justices have been the subject of movies, books, documentaries, and even paintings; however, only one can be considered an internet sensation. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s story before and after her appointment to the bench in 1993 is today an inspiration to many people in the United States and around the world.

If winter break is not the most exciting time of the year for you – leaving your law school friends for the holidays, anxiety while waiting for grades, or fielding everyone’s questions about your post-graduation plans, do not fear: RBG has your back! In just a month, right on time to help you celebrate the end of a semester and recharge your engines, we will have the honor to watch Felicity Jones, starring as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Armie Hammer, starring as as Martin D. Ginsburg, in the biopic On the Basis of Sex.

The film, which is scheduled to make its debut in theaters on Dec. 25, will highlight Justice Ginsburg’s lifelong commitment to fighting gender-based discrimination and will depict how Marty, her husband and greatest supporter, played a significant role in her successful journey to the Court.

As a young lawyer, Justice Ginsburg won five out the six cases she argued before the Supreme Court. At the core of her legacy, which she eloquently addressed on Weinberger v. Weisenfeld, 420 U.S. 636 (1975), was the fundamental believe that, the gender dichotomy that arises whenever the law treats women different than men “helps to keep women not on a pedestal, but in a cage.”

The trailer of the upcoming film offers a peek into the story behind Weisenfeld, where Justice Ginsburg fought for a father unable to receive child-in-care benefits after his wife died. There, she successfully argued a provision on the Social Security Act allowing only widows to receive child-in-care benefits was unconstitutional because it discriminated against widowers.

Whether representing a male or female plaintiff, her work has shown us that injustice is everyone’s enemy and it is within our choice to perpetuate existing discriminatory practices or stand on the side of justice.

Justice Ginsburg’s legal excellence is not the only thing that will warm our hearts this winter. While online commentators have focused their attention on the physical appearance, personal background, and even country of origin of the cast, I am looking forward to seeing Jones’ attempt at playing the role of one the most iconic legal minds of our generation.

The trailer also leaves us wanting to know more about how a love story played a crucial role in dismantling the injustice hidden behind many of our nation’s laws. During an interview, when Justice Ginsburg was asked about her marriage, she mentioned what was different about Marty than other men: “He was the first boy I knew who cared that I had a brain.” Their relationship challenged all sex-based stereotypes of their generation.

At a time when women were excluded from pursuing professional careers, Justice Ginsburg started to push boundaries that for centuries had constricted women to the four walls of their homes; she has not stopped since! Just last year, in Sessions v. Morales-Santana, 582 U.S. __ (2017), she reminded us again that a law “prescribing one rule for mothers, another for fathers, […] is the same genre as the classifications we declared unconstitutional in Reed, Frontiero, Wiesenfeld, Goldfarb, and Westcott.”

Similarly to the decision in Weisenfeld, in Morales-Santana the Court held almost unanimously a gender-based provision on the Immigration Nationality Act violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment and called on Congress to find a gender neutral solution.

Even though today, thanks to Justice Ginsburg and many others who came before us, we have legal protections to fight gender-based discrimination, it is our job to remain vigilant and committed to paving the road to equality. On The Basis of Sex offers us an opportunity to take pride on the progress that has been made and reflect on the work ahead.

If there are any of your family members or friends whose work you look up to, invite them to join you on Dec. 25. This could be the perfect chance to spend time together and cherish the work you admire so much. Also, if you tend to cry during movies like me, it may not be a bad idea to bring some tissues to the theater.

Andres Gonzalez Andres Gonzalez is a 3L student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa William S. Richardson School of Law who focuses on the intersection of law and technology. He received an A.A. in Biology from Miami Dade Honors College and a B.A. in Anthropology from Stanford University. After college, Andres worked for an e-commerce platform, where he honed his customer service and sales skills, supporting both the U.S. and international markets.