Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies aged 87
The supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died of pancreatic cancer, the court said Friday. She was 87. Ginsburg was the second woman appointed to the court in history and became a liberal icon for her sharp questioning of witnesses and intellectually rigorous defenses of civil liberties, reproductive rights, first amendment rights and equal protections under the law.
In a statement, the court said Ginsburg, who served more than 27 years on the bench, “died this evening died this evening surrounded by her family at her home in Washington DC, due to complications of metastatic pancreas cancer”.
The chief justice, John Roberts, said that the nation “has lost a jurist of historic stature. We at the supreme court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn, but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her – a tireless and resolute champion of justice.”
Ginsburg had been in poor health and was admitted to the hospital as recently as mid-July, when she was taken in with a fever and chills, but was released after about 24 hours, with the court reporting that she was recovering well.
After her discharge Ginsburg announced that she had been undergoing chemotherapy since May to treat cancerous lesions on her liver. A scan on 7 July had revealed “reduction of the liver lesions and no new disease”, she said.
Ginsburg had survived four cancer treatments going back to 1999. She participated in oral arguments in May from a hospital bed while receiving treatments believed at the time to be for a malignant tumor on her pancreas diagnosed in 2019. Ginsburg had announced in January that she was cancer-free.
Her death was received with alarm by liberals and moderates who feared that Republicans would exploit the narrow window before the presidential election to install a third Donald Trump appointee on the supreme court.
Mourners gathered outside the supreme court in Washington DC on Friday night, laying flowers and candles on its steps.
Both of Trump’s supreme court appointments to date – Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – replaced justices appointed by fellow Republican presidents. But by replacing Ginsburg, who was appointed in 1993 by Bill Clinton, Trump could decisively skew the ideological balance of the court for a generation.
The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, blocked Barack Obama from filling a court vacancy in March 2016, eight months before the presidential election that year, claiming that the window of time was too narrow and saying the slot had to be held for the next president to fill.
McConnell has previously indicated that he would race to confirm any Trump court nominee at any time before the 2020 election, however.
And in a statement on Friday, McConnell pledged to get Trump a vote on his supreme court nominee.
“President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,” the Senator majority leader said.
“Americans reelected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018 because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary. Once again, we will keep our promise.”
Tributes poured in on Friday, with figures on the left and the right offering praise and condolences.
“During her extraordinary career, this Brooklyn native broke barriers & the letters RBG took on new meaning – as battle cry & inspiration,” tweeted the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo.
“Justice Ginsburg paved the way for so many women, including me. There will never be another like her,” said former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, while the former president George W Bush said “she inspired more than one generation of women and girls”.
The president’s son, Eric Trump, called Ginsburg “a remarkable woman with an astonishing work ethic”. Donald Trump, who was holding a rally in Minnesota when the news broke on Friday, appeared not to learn of the news until he left the stage.
After the the event, the president offered brief comments to the press before boarding Air Force One, according to the White House pool report:
“She just died? I didn’t know that,” Trump said. “She led an amazing life, what else can you say? Whether you agree or not ... she led an amazing life.”
Ginsburg had undergone surgery on 21 December 2018 to remove two cancerous nodules from her lung.
Doctors discovered that she had developed lung cancer in the course of a health review following a 7 November fall in which the associate justice fractured three ribs. She returned to work within days of that incident.
Ginsburg had been diagnosed with colon cancer in 1999 and pancreatic cancer in 2009, undergoing surgery both times.
Trump could become the first president to appoint three supreme court justices in his first term since Richard Nixon a half-century ago. In July, Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace the retiring Anthony Kennedy. In early 2017, Trump nominated Gorsuch to replace Antonin Scalia, who died 11 months before the end of Obama’s presidency. McConnell declined to hold hearings on the nomination by Obama of the appeals court judge Merrick Garland.
In her 25 years on the court, Ginsburg was an essential vote in watershed rulings that combatted gender discrimination and protected abortion rights, equal pay, civil liberties and privacy rights.
Of reproductive rights, Ginsburg told an interviewer in 2009: “The basic thing is that the government has no business making that choice for a woman.”
In her later years Ginsburg gained traction as a cultural figure and feminist icon. A biopic released in 2018 was chosen by the National Board of Review as the best documentary of the year. A blog called Notorious RBG packaged Ginsburg’s feminist appeal in a hip-hop persona, and she had a daily workout that defeated Stephen Colbert.
Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn, New York, and was one of the first women to graduate from Harvard Law School. She served as general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union and was co-founder of the Women’s Rights Project. “Women’s rights are an essential part of the overall human rights agenda, trained on the equal dignity and ability to live in freedom all people should enjoy,” she said.
Elevated to a federal judgeship by Jimmy Carter, Ginsburg was Clinton’s first nomination to the court. The Senate voted 96-3 to confirm her nomination to the supreme court.
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