'Ruth - Justice Ginsburg In Her Own Words' gives RBG the last word on her legacy

Posted February 12, 2021 6:53 a.m. EST
Updated February 12, 2021 12:22 p.m. EST

— Ruth Bader Ginsburg was already the subject of a splendid documentary in CNN Films' "RBG" and a dramatic movie ("On the Basis of Sex"), both released before her death last year. But "Ruth - Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words" serves as a fitting companion, drawing heavily from Ginsburg speeches, appearances and interviews, garnished by fond reflections from those who knew her.

Perhaps the most striking image is a shot of Ginsburg's 1956 law-school class, zeroing in on her surrounded by male peers. At that point, she tells a visiting class, a legal career "seemed to me an area in which women were not yet wanted." Later, she addresses the question of whether she dreamed of being elevated to the Supreme Court by saying, "You don't aspire to something that is such a remote responsibility."

Ginsburg recalls suffering from "three strikes" when she began applying for jobs at elite law firms -- being a woman, Jewish, and the mother of a young child. Even before that she was "very sensitized to discrimination," she explains, growing up in a Jewish family during World War II.

Of course, Ginsburg helped shatter plenty of glass ceilings, adopting a sly legal strategy that included using men as plaintiffs in gender-discrimination cases in order to advance the cause of women and equality.

Discussing Ginsburg's writing and strategic acumen, former associate M.E. Freeman compares her to golfer Tiger Woods in his heyday, saying that Ginsburg simply played at a higher level than everyone around her.

Writer-director Freida Lee Mock doesn't really break new ground -- as noted, it's been pretty well plowed -- but that doesn't prevent the tributes from feeling warm and heartfelt, especially coming after Ginsburg's death. Flitting about chronologically, the conversations offer insights into her career at various crucial stages -- as a lawyer, professor and jurist.

The more personal material includes a portion devoted to Ginsburg's great friendship with fellow Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, her ideological opposite, a bracing example of civility amid today's toxic partisanship. As biographer Irin Carmon puts it, "She disagreed with everything he said, but she loved how he said it."

A similar sensation comes watching Ginsburg's Supreme Court nomination hearing, during which conservative senators are shown saying that while they might differ with her on policy, they can't dispute her intellect or qualifications. She was confirmed by a vote of 96-3.

"Ruth" admirably contextualizes Ginsburg's lingering legal influence, and how her writing in dissent during her 27 years as a justice often influenced subsequent opinions from lower courts.

Ginsburg is shown expressing bemusement about her late-in-life rock-star image, which became an inextricable part of her legacy. In that sense, the documentary gets back to the core upon which that reputation was founded, and gives its iconic subject the last word.

"Ruth - Justice Ginsburg In Her Own Words" premieres in virtual cinemas on Feb. 12, March 1 on Starz and March 9 on demand.

Our commenting policy has changed. If you would like to comment, please share on social media using the icons below and comment there.