Justice Ginsburg, 87, Dies Of Cancer Complications

Law360, New York (September 18, 2020, 7:45 PM EDT) -- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the longest-serving liberal member of the U.S. Supreme Court, has died, the court announced Friday night, opening a Supreme Court vacancy in a contentious election year. She was 87.

Trailblazing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks at Georgetown University Law Center in February. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The feminist judicial icon died Friday evening "surrounded by her family at her home in Washington, D.C., due to complications of metastatic pancreas cancer," the Supreme Court said in a statement. She served on the court for more than 27 years.

"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," Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement.

A private interment service will be held at Arlington National Cemetery, the court said.

In July, the justice disclosed a recurrence of cancer on her liver, her fifth bout with the disease, but said chemotherapy was "yielding positive results" and she remained "fully able" to do her job. She had previously undergone radiation treatment for cancer on her pancreas.

The justice, popularly known as the Notorious R.B.G., has been lionized for her groundbreaking work as an advocate for women's rights both on and off the court. Her passing now kicks off a scorched earth political battle over who will take her seat.

In a statement issued Friday night, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said: "President Trump's nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate."

McConnell unequivocally said earlier this year that he would work to fill any high court vacancy that arose during the 2020 election year, a reversal of his strategy ahead of the 2016 election, when he held the late Justice Antonin Scalia's seat open. McConnell has argued the difference now is that the same party controls the Senate and the White House, a view he reiterated Friday night. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeted Friday the "vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president."

"The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice," Schumer said, echoing the words that McConnell used to justify holding open Justice Scalia's vacancy during the 2016 election.

Justice Ginsburg served as the senior member of the court's liberal minority after the late Justice John Paul Stevens retired in 2010. Her potential replacement by a Trump nominee would swing the Supreme Court sharply to the right, widening the conservative majority to six seats.

Trump during his 2016 campaign released a shortlist of Supreme Court candidates whose resumes are packed with conservative bona fides. His last two appointees, Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, came from that list and a slightly revised one he released once in office. Trump also recently added 20 names to his list.

Seventh Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett, recently appointed by President Donald Trump, has been a rumored favorite to replace Justice Ginsburg.

Justice Ginsburg was the second woman to serve on the high court after former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. She was President Bill Clinton's first Supreme Court nominee and took her seat on the bench on Aug. 10, 1993.

Prior to her tenure at the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg served for 13 years on the D.C. Circuit and had been a professor of law at her alma mater, Columbia University, and at Rutgers University. She also co-founded the Women's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union and worked as general counsel and a member of the organization's Board of Directors in the 1970s.

An accomplished litigator, Ginsburg argued six cases championing women's rights before the high court in the 1970s, and scored victories in five. Her first Supreme Court argument came in the 1973 case Frontiero v. Richardson , in which the Supreme Court struck down a federal law for unconstitutionally discriminating against women in violation of the Fifth Amendment's due process clause.

She also left her mark on women's rights from the bench, both in her 1996 majority opinion in U.S. v. Virginia , in which the court found the Virginia Military Institute's male-only admission policy to be unconstitutional, and in her 2007 dissent in the pay discrimination case Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber. In that dissent, she called on Congress to step in and fix the barrier to pay discrimination claims created by the majority's "parsimonious" interpretation of Title VII, a law that prohibits employment bias. Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009.

Amid repeated health scares, the 87-year-old justice had faced questions about how long she planned to serve on the court. In July 2018 she said she likely had at least five more years on the bench, noting that Justice Stevens stepped down at 90.

Ginsburg frequently proved her determination, returning to work quickly after health issues arose. She worked through two bouts with cancer in 1999 and 2009, a 2018 surgery to remove cancerous nodules from her lung, and radiation in 2019 for a tumor on her pancreas.

Justice Ginsburg missed oral arguments on Jan. 7, 2019, for the first time in her quarter-century on the Supreme Court, as she recovered from the lung surgery. She returned to the bench the next month after missing several oral arguments while working from home during her recovery.

In May, Justice Ginsburg dialed into an oral argument from the hospital while recovering from a gallbladder condition, and proceeded to take the Trump administration to task for its stance in an ongoing battle over the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate.

"This is going to force costs on the women that Congress wanted to provide free coverage for," she said. "I've never seen any of our prior decisions suggest that those interests could be blown to the wind," she said.

Justice Ginsburg was long an advocate of appointing more women to federal, state and local benches. She leaves two female colleagues on the Supreme Court bench — Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

"We are no longer a one-at-a-time curiosity," Justice Ginsburg said in June 2013. "We are all over the bench."

--Additional reporting by Jimmy Hoover. Editing by Philip Shea and Pamela Wilkinson.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the year Frontiero v. Richardson was argued and decided. The error has been corrected. 


For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

Hello! I'm Law360's automated support bot.

How can I help you today?

For example, you can type:
  • I forgot my password
  • I took a free trial but didn't get a verification email
  • How do I sign up for a newsletter?
Beta
Ask a question!