By Kirsten Williams, Staff Writer
This commentary piece was originally published by JURIST Legal News & Commentary on April 16, 2021. It is reprinted here with permission from the author and Director Freida Lee Mock.
The new documentary “RUTH: Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words” recounts the highs and lows of the late, great Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s career—from her Columbia Law School graduation to her tenure as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The film poses a compelling question: “How does a person with three strikes against her rise to the highest court in the land?” As director Freida Lee Mock explains, these strikes—being a woman, being Jewish, and being a mother—defined Ginsburg’s career, rather than stifled it.
Foregoing traditional documentary-style narration, the film tells the prolific justice’s story using her own voice via carefully curated interviews, lectures, and speeches. Mock and her team conducted “months and months of research” in constructing the flow of the historical footage. “We hoped to tell her visual and audio story with film sequences showing Ginsburg in her 40s, 50s, 60s and onwards that would reveal the consistent touchstones of her character and jurisprudence involving gender equality and women’s rights,” said Mock. Throughout the film, Mock transports viewers back to a Q&A session between primary-grade students and Ginsburg, almost as if we were sitting there alongside the star-struck pupils. The effect is striking.
Mock also enlists the help of several people who had close professional and personal relationships with Ginsburg. Notable participants include Jennifer Carroll Foy, a graduate of Virginia Military Institute who attended only after Ginsburg’s 1996 opinion in the United States v. Virginia (holding that the school’s male-only admissions policy was unconstitutional) and Lilly Ledbetter, who lost her 2007 dispute against Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. but whose case (along with one of Ginsburg’s notorious dissents) helped usher in the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. In selecting interviewees, Mock says she “chose to emphasize examples of how Justice Ginsburg’s opinions impacted the lives of ordinary Americans.”
The film’s production began in 2017, on the heels of President Trump’s inauguration. “I feel that the Justice’s story and the values she stood for, in contrast to the new Trump presidency, were especially needed at this time,” Mock shared. “As a champion of women’s rights, as a fierce ally for justice, as a person with a towering legal mind, and as a beacon for all that is good in America.”
Since completing the film, Mock says she is “more attentive and interested in politics and the courts, especially the Supreme Court, in a way that inspires [her] to be a more active citizen and to inspire others through RUTH to care about how rulings by the highest court affect their everyday lives—from issues of wages, gender issues, health care, education, and more.”
“Justice Ginsburg is the only national leader who used her platform to cite the ongoing challenge of Unconscious Bias,” Mock elaborated. “She was prescient about Unconscious Bias in gender discrimination, race, disability, age, LGBTQ issues, as well as the consequence of systemic and institutional bias.” Accordingly, Mock hopes that legal professionals can find inspiration in the film to “work and lead with a moral compass, with integrity, and to subscribe to the ideal of ‘equity under the law.’”
Mock’s film paints a vibrant illustration of Justice Ginsburg’s personal life and professional legacy. Less than six months following her passing, Ginsburg’s story is perhaps more poignant than ever: in the relentless pursuit of justice, it is possible to flourish in the face of enormous adversity.
RUTH is currently available on-demand on Starz, Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, and Vudu. Starz first aired the film on March 15, in honor of what would have been Ginsburg’s 88th birthday.
Kirsten Williams is a staff writer for JURIST and a second-year dual-degree student at Vermont Law School and the Yale School of the Environment.