WASHINGTON – There was a growing crowd in front of the Supreme Court early Saturday morning. There were flowers and candles on the steps and a spontaneous rendition of “Imagine” by John Lennon. It was all part of a sudden tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who died on Friday night of complications with metastatic pancreatic cancer. She was 87.
Ginsburg — who became a feminist icon around the world after establishing herself as a pioneer in women’s legal equality in the United States — dictated a statement to her granddaughter Clara Spera before she died:
“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
During a Friday night rally, President Donald Trump described her as an amazing woman. The flags of the United States and the State of Florida were quickly flown at half-staff at all local and state buildings.
Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative, described Ginsburg as "a jurist of historic stature” and 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.
Demi Lovato described Ginsburg as a “super hero” who was brave and spent every day fighting for equal rights, women’s rights, LGTBQ+ rights, and affordable healthcare. Social media users shared tributes to Ginsburg as Notorious RBG and RBG.
A day before she died, the National Constitution Center awarded her the 32nd annual Liberty Medal and released a video featuring her friend from Brooklyn, Miami resident Jennifer Lopez. The center released a video as a tribute that had been planned months in advance and included performances by some of her favorite opera singers.
The legal community was still sharing the Liberty Medal tribute when the Supreme Court released a statement announcing Ginsburg, who served as a justice for 27 years, was surrounded by family when she died Friday at her home in Washington, D.C. Private interment will be held at Arlington Cemetery.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida’s Greater Miami Chapter and Sen. Rick Scott both released statements on Friday night after news of her death.
“We join in mourning the sudden loss of the Honorable Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” said Nicole Sinder, the president of ACLU of FL GMC, adding Ginsburg was “an American icon and champion of civil liberties.”
Scott and other Republicans responded in opposition to Ginsburg’s dying wish.
“It would be irresponsible to allow an extended vacancy on the Supreme Court," Scott said. “I believe that President Trump’s nominee should get a vote in the U.S. Senate.”
Related story: McConnell pledges quick vote on next justice; Biden says no
‘A diminutive yet towering women’s rights champion who became the court’s second female justice’
The Associated Press
Ginsburg’s 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.
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.
We have lost one of the most extraordinary Justices ever to serve on the Supreme Court. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life and landmark opinions moved us closer to a more perfect union. And her powerful dissents reminded us that we walk away from our Constitution’s promise at our peril. pic.twitter.com/dDECiBxae6— Bill Clinton (@BillClinton) September 19, 2020
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 on 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 said a statement would be forthcoming.
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.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought to the end, through her cancer, with unwavering faith in our democracy and its ideals. That’s how we remember her. But she also left instructions for how she wanted her legacy to be honored. My statement: https://t.co/Wa6YcT5gDi— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) September 19, 2020
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.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg stood for all of us. She was an American hero, a giant of legal doctrine, and a relentless voice in the pursuit of that highest American ideal: Equal Justice Under Law. May her memory be a blessing to all people who cherish our Constitution and its promise.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 19, 2020
Tonight we mourn, we honor, and we pray for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her family. But we also recommit to fight for her legacy.— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) September 19, 2020
Doug and I send our heartfelt prayers to Jane and James, and the entire Ginsburg family, particularly on this holy day of Rosh Hashanah. pic.twitter.com/SNyqZCznfv
Ruthie was my friend and I will miss her terribly. The t-shirts simply labeled “RBG” made her notorious. But it was her wit, her tenaciousness, and her skill as a jurist that made her an icon.— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) September 19, 2020