Frontpage of the September 10, 2020 Chicago Tribune:
WASHINGTON — 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.
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.
In a statement released just over an hour after Ginsburg’s death was announced, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declared unequivocally that Trump’s nominee would receive a vote, even though the Republican-controlled Senate did not give President Barack Obama’s pick a vote in the months ahead of the 2016 election.
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,” he 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 Obama’s presidency 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, including calling him a faker. She soon apologized.
Ginsburg’s 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. At argument sessions, in the ornate courtroom, she was known for digging deep into case records and for being a stickler for the rules.
Ginsburg 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 in 1993. “She has already done that.”
On the court, 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.
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 Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony 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.
Scalia died in 2016.
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.
Joan Ruth Bader was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1933. 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.
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.