American Rhetoric: Movie Speech

"On the Basis of Sex" (2018)

 

Professor Ginsburg's Closing Argument Before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue

 

Radical. Social. Change.

When I was in law school there was no women's bathroom. It's amazing to me now that we never complained -- not because we were timid; we were just astounded to be in law school at all.

A hundred years ago Myra Bradwell wanted to be a lawyer. She had fulfilled the requirements for the Illinois bar, but she wasnít allowed to practice because she was a woman -- an injustice, she asked the Supreme Court to correct. Illinois was so confident of victory, they didnít even send a lawyer to argue their side. They were right. She lost. That was the first time someone went to court to challenge his or her prescribed gender role. A hundred years ago.

Radical. Social. Change.

Sixty-five years ago, when women in Oregon wanted to work overtime, and make more money, as men could, the Court looked to the precedent in Bradwell -- and said no. So then there were two precedents. Then three. Then four. And on. And on. And you can draw a direct line from Myra Bradwell to Gwendolyn Hoyt -- told ten years ago she was not entitled to a jury of her peers.

That is the legacy the Government asks you to uphold today. You are being urged to protect the culture and traditions and morality of an America that no longer exists.

A generation ago, my students would have been arrested for indecency for wearing the clothes that they do.

Sixty-five years ago, it would have been unimaginable that my daughter would aspire to a career.

And a hundred years ago, I would not have the right to stand before you.

There are a hundred and seventy-eight federal laws that differentiate on the basis of sex. Count them. The Government did the favor of compiling them for you. And while youíre at it, I urge you to read them. They're obstacles to our childrenís aspirations.

 

Judge Doyle: You're asking us to turn over nearly a century of precedent.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Iím asking you to set a new precedent, as courts have done before when the law is outdated.

Judge Doyle: But in those cases the courts had a clear constitutional handle. The word "woman" does not appear even once in the U.S. Constitution.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Nor does the world "freedom," Your Honor.

Second Judge: Go on, Professor Ginsburg.

 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The principle purpose of Section 214 is not to protect women nor to discriminate against men. It is to provide caregivers the opportunity to work outside the home. Therefore, as the Supreme Court did in Levy v. Louisiana, this court should fix the law [in the way] most in line with the legislative intent. Extend the deduction to never-married men. Help all caregivers equally.

Charles Moritz was well raised to be the sort of man we should all hope our sons will become. Charlie deserves our admiration. Not only has he taken on the burden of caring for his very strong-willed mother when no one would expect it of him. But in doing so, he has surpassed the limitations the rest of us -- and our laws -- seek to force upon him.

We're not asking you to change the country. That's already happened without any court's permission. We're asking you to protect the right of the country to change.

Our sons and daughters are barred by law from opportunities based on assumptions about their abilities. How will they ever disprove these assumptions if laws like Section 214 are allowed to stand.

We all must take these laws on, one by one for as long as it takes for their sakes. You have the power to set the precedent that will get us started. You can right this wrong.

We rest our case on our briefs and argument, and ask that you reverse the Tax Courtís decision.

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HTML transcription by Michael E. Eidenmuller.