If you are a woman, or if you know one…

… you should see RBG. The film chronicles the remarkable life and career of United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The documentary is a compilation of interviews with Justice Ginsburg’s friends dating back to grammar school, colleagues from throughout her career, professional admirers and adversaries, and her son and daughter, among others. The viewer is also treated to an intimate glimpse of the relationship the Justice enjoys with her granddaughter, Clara Spera, a Harvard law student. And Justice Ginsburg reveals the impact of the two guiding principles she garnered from her own model and mentor, her mother: always be a lady and be independent.

And the film offers so much more to theater-goers of all interests.

If you are a student of history, you will be surprised and delighted by all you didn’t know, or had forgotten, about the struggle for equal rights for women. And, you will gain insight into President Clinton’s process in selecting and nominating the unlikely candidate, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. You will be treated to portions of the confirmation hearings that resulted in a nearly unanimous appointment of the second woman, and the first Jewish woman, to the U.S. Supreme Court. August 10, 2018 marked her 25th year in service on our highest court.

If you are a supporter of women’s rights, this film is a must see. Although we all enjoy the benefits of her efforts, most don’t know the dramatic impact this one woman has had on all things related to establishing equal rights, on the basis of sex. Despite having earned a coveted spot on Harvard Law Review, and graduating at the top of her class from Columbia Law School, she was denied opportunities at prestigious judicial clerkships, and turned away from employment at the best law firms. She instead pursued a career as a teacher, and later as a civil rights advocate. As the director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, Ginsburg was discerning in choosing, and masterful in arguing, cases that would change the course of American history. She prevailed on five of six gender equality cases argued before the Supreme Court including several landmark decisions that struck down laws that were discriminatory against women, and men.

If you are passionate about popular culture, you will be delighted to learn the impact this now 85 year-old woman is having on current culture. The “Notorious R.B.G.” earned her nickname as a play on the late rapper “Notorious B.I.G.” Her dissents stir great energy and emotion among today’s youth, and resulted in the meme “There is no TRUTH without RUTH.” Her image is the subject of everything from SNL skits to coffee mugs, and now as an action figure. And her workout routine, which includes pumping iron and real push-ups, has achieved legendary status and admiration, from young and old, liberals and conservatives alike!

Or, if you simply enjoy a wonderful love story, this is the film for you. Ruth Bader met Marty Ginsburg when they were students at Harvard. Marty recognized not only her beauty, but also her brilliance. Theirs was a true partnership, generously and selflessly accommodating the needs of each other’s careers, personal challenges, and the family they raised together.

The film was released in May 2018 and unexpectedly grossed $13 million. The film is leaving theatres soon, but CNN has picked up the first-run rights, and it will make its small screen debut on Labor Day.

And stay tuned, CNN is also releasing a companion podcast next week titled, “Beyond Notorious,” which will include Ginsburg’s granddaughter and the son of late Justice Antonin Scalia as guests. The pairing is a nod to a sweet reunion of Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg and Scalia, who had disparate legal philosophies, but maintained a dear friendship.

I urge you to see this film. And don’t be dissuaded because you think it is about liberal politics, it isn’t. It is a compelling biography that is balanced, and a jewel in these partisan times. I encourage you to take your mother, and your daughter, and the men in your life too, as this film holds appeal for all ages, and does not discriminate on the basis of sex.


Elizabeth M. Rochford is an associate judge in Lake County, currently assigned in the Family Division.  She is a member of the ISBA Board of Governors, and serves as liaison to the Women and the Law Standing Committee

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October 2018Volume 24Number 1PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)