Fact or Fiction? The Truth Behind the Movie Entitled “On the Basis of Sex”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a renowned American lawyer and jurist who shook the status quo back in her day, as she became the second female justice of the United States Supreme Court and the very first tenured female professor at Columbia University. To remember her life and how her career as a lawyer started, an American biographical legal drama film entitled On the Basis of Sex was released in 2018, written by Daniel Stiepleman and directed by Mimi Leder.

Starring Felicity Jones as a young Ruth Ginsburg and Armie Hammer as her husband Martin Ginsburg, On the Basis of Sex zooms into Ginsburg’s early years and the different stages of her life, ultimately showcasing how she was able to juggle being a mother, student, professor, and eventually, a lawyer.

Even though the film follows Ginsburg’s life, it primarily focuses on her first case, a gender discrimination one known as the Moritz v. Commissioner case. Taking place in 1972, the Ginsburg duo argued together as a team, stating that Section 214 of the country’s tax code is not constitutional because it didn’t allow Charles Moritz to deduct expenses to help care for his mother.

That being said, On the Basis of Sex may be a biographical film, but some parts of it were fictionalized to fit the director and writer’s vision of the story more. Everything still meshed well together, though, but for the curious minds, here are some facts—and fiction—found in the movie.


Martin Ginsburg Loved to Cook for the Family

On the Basis of Sex portrayed the Ginsburg family as an egalitarian one, which was true to life. Martin Ginsburg enjoyed cooking meals for his family and happily supported Ruth Ginsburg in all her professional endeavors. Given this took place a while back, this kind of mindset wasn’t exactly common back then.

Ginsburg Graduated From Columbia Even Though She Transferred From Harvard

In the film, Martin received a major job offer in New York City after graduating from Harvard Law School. However, Ruth decided to accompany her husband and daughter because she knew she needed to be with her family. As a result, however, she couldn’t finish her degree in Boston. At that time, Ruth still had a year left before she herself could graduate, too.

What made things more difficult was that Harvard Law School’s Dean (Sam Waterston) refused to let her complete a Harvard JD if she took her courses from Columbia. In the end, after many protests, she was able to finish her degree and graduate from Columbia Law School.

Partial Facts

Ginsburg’s First Major Case Was a Tax-Related One

The film made it seem as if the Moritz v. Commissioner case was Ginsburg’s first, and although it was definitely one of the first renowned cases that she did, it wasn’t her first. However, according to the real Ruth Ginsburg, the movie accurately depicted how she stumbled upon the case, to begin with. A tax attorney known as Marty encouraged Ruth to read up on a specific case, even though she said she didn’t “read tax cases.” However, after going through the case’s specificities, Ginsburg knew that she had to take it on.

Ginsburg Had Difficulty Landing a Job With a Law Firm

Ruth Ginsburg may have been top of her class in Columbia Law School, but finding a job as a Jewish woman wasn’t exactly easy. In the film, it showcased that Ginsburg had a difficult time trying to land a job as a lawyer, so she ended up becoming one of the faculty members of Rutgers University Law School, marking this as her first job. However, this isn’t technically true because she actually clerked for a couple of judges before heading over to Rutgers, with the first judge being US District Judge Edmond Palmieri. Still, the discrimination she experienced during the movie wasn’t different from what the real Ruth went through.


Ginsburg Attended Classes on Behalf of Her Husband During His Cancer Treatment

When Martin Ginsburg got diagnosed with testicular cancer, the film showed him and Ruth agreeing that they would fight this predicament together. So, during her husband’s time to undergo treatment, Ginsburg attended her husband’s classes for him—on top of all her classes. While it was definitely a fact that Martin was diagnosed with cancer, it’s not true that Ruth was the one who attended his classes for him. In actuality, Martin’s classmates helped out tremendously by taking notes and even tutoring him on what he missed.

Ginsburg Botched Her Opening Statement

There was a scene in the film when Ruth hesitated when she was about to do her oral argument. However, the real Ruth Ginsburg cleared the record by saying that this never happened and that she never stumbled during that moment.


There you have it—deeper information for those who enjoyed the film. Hopefully, this article was able to provide you with a deeper understanding of Ruth Ginsburg and the incredible woman that she was.