Fact check: What Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic ‘On the Basis of Sex’ gets right (and wrong)
27th December 2018

For her starry new Hollywood biopic, Ruth Bader Ginsburg kept it in the family. 

“On the Basis of Sex” (in theaters now) is written by Daniel Stiepleman, a first-time screenwriter and nephew of the Supreme Court justice. The film is part love story, part legal drama, showing how a young Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) and her husband, Martin (Armie Hammer), won their first case together in court in the early 1970s. 

The seemingly minor case, “Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue,” involved an unmarried man who was denied a $600 tax deduction for payment for his aging mother’s caretaker. But it ignited a spark in Ginsburg, now 85, who has continued to rail against gender discrimination throughout her storied career, serving in the highest federal court in the United States since 1993. 

Stiepleman consulted with his aunt as he wrote “Basis,” sticking to many of the facts while taking some liberties with the new movie. Among the most notable similarities and differences: 

TRUE: Ginsburg attended classes for her sick husband 

The impenetrable bond between Ruth and Marty is at the heart of “Basis,” which begins in 1956 with them married and both studying at Harvard Law School. While there, Marty is diagnosed with a rare form of testicular cancer and undergoes surgery, during which time Ruth attends his classes in addition to her own. 

In real life, “there were classmates who took notes for them, but she attended classes on occasion, too,” Stiepleman says. As seen in the film, Marty was worn down and exhausted following radiation treatments, so Ginsburg would help complete his assignments whenever he had a burst of energy (typically between midnight and 2 a.m.). “He would dictate his papers to her, she’d type them up and he’d go back to sleep,” Stiepleman says. “That’s when she started a lifetime of working through the night, which she still does to this day.”

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