Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

 


Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said on Friday that “there is no doubt” that the next U.S. Supreme Court justice should be chosen by the winner of the election.

“There is no doubt - let me be clear - that the voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider,” Biden told reporters at an airport in New Castle, Del., after learning of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a diminutive yet towering women’s rights champion who became the court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington. She was 87.

Ginsburg died of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer, the court said.

Her death just over six weeks before Election Day is likely to set off a heated battle over whether President Donald Trump should nominate, and the Republican-led Senate should confirm, her replacement, or if the seat should remain vacant until the outcome of his race against Democrat Joe Biden is known. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said late Friday that the Senate will vote on Trump’s pick to replace Ginsburg, even though it’s an election year.

Chief Justice John Roberts mourned Ginsburg’s passing. “Our 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,” Roberts said in a statement.

Ginsburg announced in July that she was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for lesions on her liver, the latest of her several battles with cancer.

Ginsburg spent her final years on the bench as the unquestioned leader of the court’s liberal wing and became something of a rock star to her admirers. Young women especially seemed to embrace the court’s Jewish grandmother, affectionately calling her the Notorious RBG, for her defense of the rights of women and minorities, and the strength and resilience she displayed in the face of personal loss and health crises.

Those health issues included five bouts with cancer beginning in 1999, falls that resulted in broken ribs, insertion of a stent to clear a blocked artery and assorted other hospitalizations after she turned 75.

She resisted calls by liberals to retire during Barack Obama’s presidency at a time when Democrats held the Senate and a replacement with similar views could have been confirmed. Instead, Trump will almost certainly try to push Ginsburg’s successor through the Republican-controlled Senate — and move the conservative court even more to the right.

Ginsburg antagonized Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign in a series of media interviews, including calling him a faker. She soon apologized.

Her appointment by President Bill Clinton in 1993 was the first by a Democrat in 26 years. She initially found a comfortable ideological home somewhere left of center on a conservative court dominated by Republican appointees. Her liberal voice grew stronger the longer she served.

Ginsburg was a mother of two, an opera lover and an intellectual who watched arguments behind oversized glasses for many years, though she ditched them for more fashionable frames in her later years. At argument sessions in the ornate courtroom, she was known for digging deep into case records and for being a stickler for following the rules.

She argued six key cases before the court in the 1970s when she was an architect of the women’s rights movement. She won five.

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg does not need a seat on the Supreme Court to earn her place in the American history books,” Clinton said at the time of her appointment. “She has already done that.”

On the court, where she was known as a facile writer, her most significant majority opinions were the 1996 ruling that ordered the Virginia Military Institute to accept women or give up its state funding, and the 2015 decision that upheld independent commissions some states use to draw congressional districts.

Besides civil rights, Ginsburg took an interest in capital punishment, voting repeatedly to limit its use. During her tenure, the court declared it unconstitutional for states to execute the intellectually disabled and killers younger than 18.

In addition, she questioned the quality of lawyers for poor accused murderers. In the most divisive of cases, including the Bush v. Gore decision in 2000, she was often at odds with the court’s more conservative members — initially Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas.

The division remained the same after John Roberts replaced Rehnquist as chief justice, Samuel Alito took O’Connor’s seat, and, under Trump, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh joined the court, in seats that had been held by Scalia and Kennedy, respectively.


Ginsburg would say later that the 5-4 decision that settled the 2000 presidential election for Republican George W. Bush was a “breathtaking episode” at the court.

She was perhaps personally closest to the court to Scalia, her ideological opposite. Ginsburg once explained that she took Scalia’s sometimes biting dissents as a challenge to be met. “How am I going to answer this in a way that’s a real putdown?” she said.

When Scalia died in 2016, also an election year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to act on Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill the opening. The seat remained vacant until after Trump’s surprising presidential victory. McConnell has said he would move to confirm a Trump nominee if there were a vacancy this year.

Reached by phone late Friday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, declined to disclose any plans. He called Ginsburg a “trailblazer” and said, “While I had many differences with her on legal philosophy, I appreciate her service to our nation.”

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer tweeted: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

Ginsburg authored powerful dissents of her own in cases involving abortion, voting rights and pay discrimination against women. She said some were aimed at swaying the opinions of her fellow judges while others were “an appeal to the intelligence of another day” in the hopes that they would provide guidance to future courts.

“Hope springs eternal,” she said in 2007, “and when I am writing a dissent, I’m always hoping for that fifth or sixth vote — even though I’m disappointed more often than not.”

She wrote memorably in 2013 that the court’s decision to cut out a key part of the federal law that had ensured the voting rights of Black people, Hispanics and other minorities was “like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Change on the court hit Ginsburg especially hard. She dissented forcefully from the court’s decision in 2007 to uphold a nationwide ban on an abortion procedure that opponents call partial-birth abortion. The court, with O’Connor still on it, had struck down a similar state ban seven years earlier. The “alarming” ruling, Ginsburg said, “cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this court — and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women’s lives.”

In 1999, Ginsburg had surgery for colon cancer and received radiation and chemotherapy. She had surgery again in 2009 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and in December 2018 for cancerous growths on her left lung. Following the last surgery, she missed court sessions for the first time in more than 25 years on the bench.

Ginsburg also was treated with radiation for a tumor on her pancreas in August 2019. She maintained an active schedule even during the three weeks of radiation. When she revealed a recurrence of her cancer in July 2020, Ginsburg said she remained “fully able” to continue as a justice.

Joan Ruth Bader was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1933, the second daughter in a middle-class family. Her older sister, who gave her the lifelong nickname “Kiki,” died at age 6, so Ginsburg grew up in Brooklyn’s Flatbush section as an only child. Her dream, she has said, was to be an opera singer.

Ginsburg graduated at the top of her Columbia University law school class in 1959 but could not find a law firm willing to hire her. She had “three strikes against her” — for being Jewish, female and a mother, as she put it in 2007.

She had married her husband, Martin, in 1954, the year she graduated from Cornell University. She attended Harvard University’s law school but transferred to Columbia when her husband took a law job there. Martin Ginsburg went on to become a prominent tax attorney and law professor. Martin Ginsburg died in 2010. She is survived by two children, Jane and James, and several grandchildren.

Ginsburg once said that she had not entered the law as an equal-rights champion. “I thought I could do a lawyer’s job better than any other,” she wrote. “I have no talent in the arts, but I do write fairly well and analyze problems clearly.”

 The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday will enable U.S. President Donald Trump to nominate a third jurist to the Supreme Court and galvanize support among conservative voters ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

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Trump earlier this month announced a list of 20 potential contenders he would tap if a vacancy on the nine-justice court emerged.

The list included Republican Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, as well as many judges who Trump already has appointed to lower federal courts. Cruz quickly demurred while Cotton embraced the idea.

Also on the list were Noel Francisco, who until recently served as the Trump administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer; Daniel Cameron, Kentucky’s attorney general; and Paul Clement, the top Supreme Court lawyer under former Republican President George W. Bush and now one of the most prominent private attorneys who argues cases before the justices.

The list - names added to another roster he issued earlier in his presidency - brought the number of different potential nominees Trump has said he would consider to 44. Another prominent name on the prior list includes Amy Coney, a judge on the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

An additional vacancy could enable Trump to move the court further to the right.

Trump’s two previous appointees to the Supreme Court were Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.

If Trump is able to appoint a successor, the court would have a rock-solid 6-3 conservative majority.

Supreme Court justices, who receive lifetime appointments, play an enormous role in shaping U.S. policies on hot-button issues such as abortion, LGBT rights, gun rights, religious liberty, the death penalty and presidential powers.

That could deliver changes long sought by conservatives such as overturning the court’s landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. The court could also play a pivotal role in deciding a dispute over the 2020 election, much as it did in the landmark 2000 case of Bush v. Gore.

On the steps of the Supreme Court Building, the low murmur of chirping crickets and soft cries filled the air as hundreds of people grieved the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Occasionally short bursts of clapping broke out before the crowd resumed its silence (at points they sang “Amazing Grace,” “America the Beautiful,” and “Imagine” by the Beatles).

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, seen in February, has died at the age of 87.Patrick Semansky / AP Photo

Surrounded by family in her home in the District, Ginsburg died from complications related to pancreatic cancer on Friday at the age of 87. She was the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court and spent 27 years on the bench. She was a champion for gender equality and one of few remaining liberal voices on the court.

Shawn Boykins, 35, said a friend texted him about the news as soon as it happened. He was in the neighborhood and thought to go to the Supreme Court to pay his respects.

“I can’t help but think about the political implications, but I’m trying to set that aside,” Boykins said. “It just reinforces that a lot’s at stake in the election with so much happening, with the fires, climate change and everything.”

People in front of the Supreme Court Building honor the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.Jenny Gathright / DCist/WAMU

Nairika Murphy said she was one of the first people to show up at the Supreme Court Building to pay her respects. She was on a walk when her family texted her the news.

“I think she just did a lot for this country and it’s really important that people recognize that and show support and also be clear and have a visual representation we’re not going anywhere, regardless of who’s placed in her spot and who’s elected, that we’re not going to move back to the 1950s,” Murphy said.

Murphy said she hopes people channel the feeling of this moment, the anger and frustration, and even hope, into civic action at the polls this November.

“I think that this country is in a really dangerous place, and I think the fact that we’re still questioning climate science, and women’s reproductive rights it’s unbelievable to me,” Murphy said.

Johanna Elsemore, 34, and Courtney Tate, 36, live a few blocks from the Supreme Court. Elsemore said she felt compelled to honor Ginsburg’s accomplishments and her support of women throughout the years (the couple brought candles to honor her life and legacy).

“We were talking on the way up here and about how easy it is to get swept up in all the politics and the emotional back and forth of Supreme Court decisions and wrap that up with the grief of losing somebody as monumental,” Elsemore said. “But I think the better thing to do is remember RBG and rejoice in the works she did.”

Elsemore added that the two would not be where they are today had it not been for Ginsburg.

“Especially with respect to women’s rights,” Tate added.

Ginsburg was beloved by many in the District. On Twitter, members of the community grieved her death.

Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh tweeted that Ginsburg was “one of the greatest Justices of all time and a singular champion of women’s rights.” Next to a photo of the two standing together, Cheh wrote that one of the greatest honors in her life was getting to meet Ginsburg.

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said on Twitter that Ginsburg was a crusader for justice, who “tenaciously used the law to fight for what is right and just.”

“America has lost an icon,” tweeted Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich. “Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a trailblazer, and her presence on the Court will be missed. She leaves us a fairer, more just country.”

Earlier this month, a mural of Ginsburg went up on 15th and U streets in Northwest depicting her larger-than-life persona.

Ginsburg was a member of Sixth &I’s congregation and hosted events with the synagogue in the past (they even designated her one of numerous celebrity cardboard cutouts during its virtual high holidays).

private interment service for Ginsburg will be held at Arlington National Cemetery.

 U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on Friday kicked off a monumental battle in Congress as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invited President Donald Trump to promptly nominate a replacement, ignoring pleas by Democrats to await the results of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

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“President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,” McConnell proclaimed on Friday night, without providing a time frame for action by the Senate.

That confirmed McConnell’s prior insistence that he would do so in an election year, despite stonewalling President Barack Obama’s efforts to nominate a successor to Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, 10 months before that year’s presidential election.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer urged McConnell to await the results of the elections that are less than two months from now. He quoted McConnell’s 2016 words on Twitter, saying “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

Trump is seeking a second four-year term and has been trailing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in public opinion polls.

The long-term direction of the nation’s highest court is at stake. The closely divided court currently had five justices with conservative bents and four liberals.

If Trump were to choose a conservative judge to replace the liberal Ginsburg, as expected, the court’s conservatives would have more heft with a 6-3 majority.

Democrats are trying to gain control of the White House and the Senate, which has the power to confirm the president’s nominees for the Supreme Court.

Since becoming Senate majority leader in 2015 McConnell has focused most of his attention and wielded his power to fill the federal courts with conservative judges nominated by Trump.

One senior Senate Republican aide said of McConnell, “No way he lets a (Supreme Court) seat slip away.” The aide added that a major question will be whether McConnell, in tandem with Trump, attempts to fill the vacancy before the Nov. 3 election or sometime before Jan. 20, when the next president will be sworn-in.

It can take several weeks to months between the president’s nomination of a Supreme Court justice and a Senate confirmation vote as the nominee must go through a thorough vetting process by the Senate and often makes visits with individual senators to build support for the nomination.

Then, lengthy confirmation hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee normally follow culminating with a recommendation on whether the nominee should be confirmed and placed onto the court.

The last Supreme Court opening was filled in October, 2018 by Justice Brett Kavanaugh. His confirmation faced strong opposition from Senate Democrats and included bitter hearings amid allegations, which he denied, of sexual misconduct decades earlier.

The Senate is currently controlled by 53 Republicans, while Democrats hold 45 seats. Two independents align with Democrats on most votes.

Among the 53 Republicans are some moderates, including Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. Collins is in a tough race for re-election this year in her home state of Maine, which has been trending Democratic.

Ginsburg’s death could have an impact on Collins’ re-election effort and her posture on whether filling the high-court seat should await the outcome of the 2020 presidential race.