U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a worldwide icon for gender equality, has died of metastatic pancreatic cancer at the age of 87, the court confirmed Friday.
Ginsburg was one of the longest-serving Supreme Court Justices, having been appointed to the bench in 1993 by then-President Bill Clinton. She was only the second woman ever to hold a seat on the country’s highest court.
The justice had recently revealed that her cancer had returned after an earlier battle with the disease. The court confirmed that Ginsburg died at her home in Washington, D.C., with her family by her side.
“Our nation has lost a jurist of historic stature,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement provided by the court. “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.”
American flags above the White House and other government buildings in the nation’s capital were lowered to half-mast to pay tribute to Ginsburg.
A statement from President Donald Trump called Ginsburg “a titan of the law,” and said her opinions on the legal equality of women and the disabled “have inspired all Americans, and generations of great legal minds.”
“Renowned for her brilliant mind and her powerful dissents at the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg demonstrated that one can disagree without being disagreeable toward one’s colleagues or different points of view,” the statement reads.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell highlighted Ginsburg’s “extraordinary” life in his own statement. He also promised to hold a vote on Trump’s nominee for her replacement.
The court said a private service will be held for Ginsburg at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. at an unspecified date.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1933, Ginsburg quickly blazed a trail for women as she made her way through law school at Harvard and Columbia universities in the 1950s — often as one of only a few female students. As she’s recounted, her dean at Harvard made it clear that she would have to work harder to justify taking the place of a man.
After struggling to find work following graduation — often because of her appearance, including her short stature — she secured her first job as a law clerk for Edmund Palmieri, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Ginsburg quickly pivoted toward education, becoming a law professor at Rutgers University in 1963 before moving to Columbia in 1972. She also had stints as a fellow at Stanford before securing her first judgeship with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1980.
In 1971, while working for the American Civil Liberties Union, she helped launch the Women’s Rights Project, which helped pave the way toward gender equity in American life.
The project challenged a 1961 Supreme Court ruling on jury selection that discriminated against women, upholding the then-dominant belief that “women are at the center of home and family life.” A decade later, Ginsburg and her fellow lawyers got the court to agree that discrimination based on sex was unconstitutional, paving the way for years of further challenges from the Women’s Rights Project on discrimination issues in the workplace, politics and other areas.
Ginsburg would serve as the ACLU’s general counsel from 1973 until her move toward the bench in 1980, and also sat on the board of directors for much of that time.
After reaching the country’s highest court in 1993, Ginsburg was among the liberal-leaning justices who wrote opinions in favour of same-sex marriage and LGBTQ2 rights while defending the merits of Roe v. Wade, which protects a woman’s ability to choose abortion.
She did not disguise her left-leaning views, calling then-presidential candidate Donald Trump a “faker” in during the 2016 campaign — a comment she had to apologize for.
But that outspokenness also made Ginsburg a celebrity for future generations, who championed her fights for equal rights and her commitment to her health into old age, including workout routines that have gone viral on social media. Younger generations have nicknamed her “The Notorious R.B.G.”, aligning her with fellow Brooklyn native The Notorious B.I.G.
Ginsburg has been the subject of health concerns for years, most recently this past July when she revealed that a medical scan in February revealed lesions on her liver, which a subsequent biopsy determined were cancerous.
The lesions are the fifth time Ginsburg has dealt with cancer since 1999, when she first underwent surgery for colorectal cancer. Surgeries for tumours on her pancreas and lung took place in 2009 and 2018, respectively, and Ginsburg underwent radiation therapy for a new growth on her pancreas last year.
Her death now leaves a vacancy in the Supreme Court less than two months before the presidential election, and four months before Trump’s term ends. Trump has already named two conservative judges to the court — Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — creating a conservative majority.
Last week, Trump released a list of potential names he would choose from to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, including Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri.
As tributes poured in for Ginsburg Friday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump and the Republican Party should wait until after Trump’s term ends in January before her replacement is selected.
Trump, who was holding a campaign rally in Minnesota as the news was breaking, did not appear to know that Ginsburg had died while he was on stage, where he talked at length about his plans for the Supreme Court if he were to win another term.
After the rally, Trump appeared taken aback when asked to comment.
“Just now?” he responded. “She led an amazing life. What else can you say? She was an amazing woman — whether you agree or not — she was an amazing woman who led an amazing life. I’m actually sad to hear that.”
Other notable politicians and Americans praised Ginsburg’s legacy and mourned her loss in statements on social media, calling her a “giant” and “one of the great justices in modern American history.”
—With files from the Associated Press