On Friday, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to sit on the Supreme Court, passed away from complications from pancreatic cancer in Washington, D.C. She was 87.
Ginsburg sat on the Supreme Court for 27 years. In that time, she had become a national icon — charming even those who disagreed with her legal mind and her great wit.
Her dedication to the battle for gender equality and gay and civil rights, earned her a place among feminist icons. She was known by all as a fierce fighter against sexism, a fight that started when she faced sexism in her own life.
She graduated at the top of her class in 1954 and married her husband, Marty Ginsburg, who was a successful lawyer. They moved to Oklahoma together, where her husband was stationed in the Army Reserves.
There, Ginsburg went to work for the Social Security Administration but was demoted after her first child was born in 1955.
Then, the family moved back to the east coast, where Ginsburg enrolled in Harvard Law School. Despite tying for first in her class, Ginsburg struggled to find work after graduation.
Ginsburg has written that her being not only a woman but also Jewish, caused her to face discrimination in the hiring process, despite her sterling credentials.
After she was hired as a clerk for U.S. District Judge Edmund Palmieri in Manhattan, Ginsburg went on to become a professor at Rutgers University, and later Columbia, where she was the first tenured female professor in the university’s history.
Having faced gender discrimination in her own life, Ginsburg pursued justice for women throughout her legal career, especially in the 1970s. She became a volunteer lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, where she founded and directed the Women’s Rights Project.
She was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. She stayed in that position for 13 years, when, in 1993, President Clinton nominated her for the Supreme Court.
Throughout her career as a Supreme Court Justice, Ginsburg championed the cause of gender equality, gay rights and access to abortion, and was not afraid to express her opinions, even if they were controversial.
Her often-scathing remarks in her opinions and dissents led to the nickname “the Notorious R.B.G,” a reference to rapper Biggie Smalls, often referred to as “the Notorious B.I.G.”
Ginsburg famously had a close friendship with fellow Justice Antonin Scalia until his death in 2016. A traditionalist and conservative, Justice Scalia was the ideological opposite to Justice Ginsburg, yet, despite their differences, the two were “best buddies,” as Ginsburg wrote after his death.
Their friendship served as a model for many during a period of heightened political tensions after the election of President Donald Trump.
There has been an outpouring of grief at the news of her death, from members of all sides of the political spectrum, including President Trump. He expressed his sadness at the loss of Justice Ginsburg on Twitter, noting that her brilliance has inspired many:
Statement from the President on the Passing of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pic.twitter.com/N2YkGVWLoF
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 19, 2020
Archibishop Elpidophoros of America also mourned the passing of Justice Ginsburg, noting the historic importance of her role on the court and her commitment to justice:
We mourn the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose tenure on the US Supreme Court was historic. As we acknowledge her tremendous role, we pray that the justice she championed prevail for all people.
— Elpidophoros (@Elpidophoros) September 19, 2020
Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, the country’s first woman in the position, expressed her grief at the passing of Justice Ginsburg, stating on Facebook that Ginsburg was the “guarantee of balance, justice, and truth on the U.S. Supreme Court,” and that she mourns her death “as if she were a member of (her) family.”
Justice Ginsburg had had health scares in the past, including four cancer diagnoses. She had recently been hospitalized in relation to her latest diagnosis. Her death, only 50 days before the election, has caused controversy regarding the vacant seat left on the Court.
This has caused anxiety among moderates and liberals, who fear President Trump will nominate a conservative justice to replace her. A Supreme Court nomination so close to the election in November resembles the controversy surrounding President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016.
Then, Republicans in the Senate refused to vote on his nomination for 11 months, arguing that the nomination was too close to the upcoming elections. When President Trump took office in 2017, he nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Court, who was promptly confirmed by the Republican-led senate.
Now that the next election is only less than two months away, they’ve changed their tune, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly called for an immediate vote on Ginsburg’s successor on the day of her passing.
He spearheaded the resistance against Obama’s nominee, stating in 2016: “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.”
However, unlike the situation at that time, the Senate now is majority Republican, like the President, which would make a Senate vote to confirm much easier now. According to her granddaughter, Ginsburg’s dying wish was for her successor to be nominated after the upcoming elections in November.
However, Justice Ginsburg was quoted in 2016 as saying, regarding the filling of Supreme Court seats in election years, “That’s their job. There’s nothing in the Constitution that says the president stops being the president in his last year. Eight is not a good number for a collegial body that sometimes disagrees.”