The octogenarian judge who stands up to Trump

Having declined to step down from the Court so that the Democrats could replace her with another liberal judge while Obama was still in power, Ginsburg is said to be working very hard to remain fit and healthy long enough to foil the Trump administration’s desire to replace her with one of theirs. During the election campaign, she and Trump conducted a war of words for which she was criticised when he became president.

Her bird-like features and oversized spectacles have inspired a line in tattoos, T-shirts and tote bags

West and Cohen give us a brisk recital of her achievements, starting with her student years in the 1950s when she became one of only nine women to matriculate from Harvard Law School – hardly a cheering achievement in the eyes of one of her professors. At a celebratory dinner, he went around the table asking each woman how she could justify holding a place which would otherwise have gone to a man.

Ginsburg and Jimmy Carter shaking hands, c. 1980.

Ginsburg and Jimmy Carter shaking hands, c. 1980.

Photo: Magnolia Pictures

A more sympathetic male mentor helped Ginsburg to get a job as a clerk to a district court judge after she had failed to find one in the federal court – despite the fact that she had topped her class.  Then she ascended steadily through the ranks with a succession of landmark campaigns and decisions.

Stills from those years show a young woman both beautiful and serious. The glasses and the bird-like aspect came with the years but the belief in women’s rights didn’t.

Ginsburg fell for her husband Marty, who died in 2010, partly because he was the first boy to show any interest in her ambitions. Later, he would move his highly successful career as a tax lawyer to Washington to accommodate hers.

Throughout everything, Marty seems to have maintained his charm and good humour. The extrovert member of their partnership, he was the one who organised their social and domestic lives. He also became used to fetching his wife home from the office at midnight. Their son and daughter speak with rueful affection of a mother who never learnt how to use the stove.

A still from the film.

A still from the film.

Photo: Magnolia Pictures

When Ginsburg took her seat on the Supreme Court in 1993, the only other woman there was Sandra Day O’Connor and the two sealed their friendship with a shared fashion statement. Instead of accessorising their judicial robes with traditional jabots, they came up with collars of their own. Ginsburg still favours lace – along with a gold filigree model given to her by her clerks – but the most famous one in her collection is an elaborate jewelled necklace which has become known as her collar of dissent, a signal that she won’t be going along with the Court’s majority decision.

Ginsburg’s friendships have sometimes transcended politics. For years, some of her supporters marvelled over her long-standing friendship with fellow justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative whose death in 2016 paved the way for Trump to appoint Neil Gorsuch after the Republicans stymied Obama’s efforts to install his own choice.

She admired the clarity and cogency of Scalia’s opinions – which she said often helped her improve her own – but they also shared a love of opera. The film has scenes of them appearing together as extras in a Washington National Opera production of Ariadne auf Naxos. For me, these were the most engaging things in the film – proof that the machinations of politicians are often no match for the understanding forged by people who actually like one another.

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