Ruth Bader Ginsburg Dies: Supreme Court Justice Was 87

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Ted Johnson
·7 min read
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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the senior liberal voice on the high court and a lifelong advocate of women’s equality, has died. She was 87.

The court said she died of metastatic pancreatic cancer Friday evening at her home in Washington, D.C., where she was surrounded by her family. Ginsburg had announced over the summer that she had been undergoing chemotherapy treatment, but she said that she would “remain a member of the court as long as I can do the job full steam. I remain fully able to do that.”

According to NPR, just days before her death, Ginsburg dictated a statement to her granddaughter that read in part, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Career In Pictures – Photo Gallery

Chief Justice John Roberts said: “Our nation has lost a justice 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 was confirmed to the Supreme Court in 1993, the first of President Bill Clinton’s two nominees. The confirmation vote was a staggering 96-3.

“Justice Ginsburg paved the way for so many women, including me,” Hillary Clinton wrote on Twitter. “There will never be another like her. Thank you RBG.”

In recent years, Ginsburg, the second woman on the court after Sandra Day O’Connor, had obtained an iconic stature, the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary, RBG, and a feature film last year. She cooperated in the making of both. She also obtained an iconic nickname, “Notorious RBG,” which reflected her status as a career-long champion of women’s equality.

Her death likely will set up another confirmation battle on the eve of an election or during the lame-duck session later in the year.

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Ginsburg was the senior liberal justice on the court and, if President Donald Trump is able to fill the vacancy, it would solidify the court’s 6-3 conservative majority. Trump already has named two justices to the court, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pledged to bring Trump’s nominee to the floor.

McConnell refused to consider Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, arguing that the nomination should wait because the vacancy occurred during an election year. But McConnell has indicated that, should a vacancy occur this year, he would move it forward.

“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,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote on Twitter, mirroring a statement that McConnell gave in 2016.

In his statement Friday night, McConnell used a bit of pretzel logic to explain why he was not being hypocritical.

“Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite-party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year,” McConnell said.

“By contrast, Americans re-elected 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.”

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Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn in 1933. She graduated from Cornell University in 1954. She started law school at Harvard University, but transferred to Columbia.

After graduation, though, she was turned away from private law firms, which weren’t hiring women for the job at the time.

She instead taught at Rutgers University but even then feared that, were she to get pregnant, her contract would not be renewed because there was no law prohibiting such treatment.

“I borrowed my mother in law’s clothes,” Ginsburg said at an event in Washington in 2018 for the movie On the Basis of Sex. “She was one size larger, so it was perfect. I got through the semester. I had my contract renewed, and the last day of the term I told my colleagues, when I return in September, there will be one more in our family.”

On CNN on Friday, RBG co-director Betsy West said, “She did have some discouragement in trying to get the job she was trailed to do. She had a toddler at home, and yet she kept going.”

‘RBG’ Directors On How Ruth Bader Ginsburg Wanted To Be Remembered

As an attorney, she was founding director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union in the 1970s and brought a series of cases that made it to the Supreme Court, challenging sex discrimination in federal laws. Her plaintiffs in some cases were men, but the cases pointed to the differences in treatment between genders when it came to obtaining such things as tax deductions and Social Security benefits. In total, she argued six cases in front of the Supreme Court, and won five.

“The words of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause — ‘nor shall any state deny to any person the equal protection of the laws.’ Well that word, ‘any person,’ covers women as well as men. And the Supreme Court woke up to that reality in 1971,” Ginsburg said in an interview with NPR.

Even then, she faced flippant and even sexist remarks from the justices. As recounted in RBG, when Ginsburg was arguing a gender bias case in 1978, Justice William Rehnquist asked her, “You won’t settle for putting Susan B. Anthony on the new dollar?”

West told Variety in 2018 that Ginsburg told them that she “didn’t get angry. That would be self-defeating.”

West said, “She understood that the way to make her case was not to get angry but to be smarter than they were, and she was.”

Here are some highlights of her career from the SCOTUS website:

“[After graduating from Columbia Law School, she served as a law clerk to the Honorable Edmund L. Palmieri, Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, from 1959-61. From 1961-63, she was a research associate and then associate director of the Columbia Law School Project on International Procedure. She was a Professor of Law at Rutgers University School of Law from 1963-72, and Columbia Law School from 1972-80, and a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, California from 1977-78. In 1971, she was instrumental in launching the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, and served as the ACLU’s General Counsel from 1973-80, and on the National Board of Directors from 1974-80. She was appointed a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1980. President Clinton nominated her as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and she took her seat August 10, 1993.

Ginsburg is survived by her two children, Jane Carol Ginsburg and James Steven Ginsburg; four grandchildren; two step-grandchildren’ and one great-grandchild. Her husband, Martin Ginsburg, died in 2010.

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