Following years of health concerns, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday at the age of 87, the court said.
“Our nation has lost a jurist of historic stature,” Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement, according to The New York Times. “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.”
Ginsburg died of “complications of metastatic pancreas cancer,” the court said.
Ginsburg’s death could very well set up a bitter battle over her successor in the weeks leading up to the November election. Senate Republicans have signaled that they would attempt to fill a vacancy on the court even in the final months of President Donald Trump’s first term.
According to NPR, Ginsburg told her granddaughter days before she died: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
Born March 15, 1933 in Brooklyn, New York, Ginsburg defied the odds as a mid-20th century college graduate and housewife, eventually attending Harvard before graduating Columbia Law School at the top of her class in 1959.
Ginsburg would go on to enjoy a lengthy and diverse legal career, according to her Supreme Court biography, serving as a district court clerk in New York, a professor of law at her alma mater and the general counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as a founding member of the organization’s Women’s Rights Project.
The jurist was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit during the Carter administration, before finally coming to rest as the second woman in history to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court — the result of a 1993 elevation at the hands of Democratic President Bill Clinton.
The oldest member of the court at the time of her death, Ginsburg had been plagued with health problems for the final two years of her career, frequently being moved in and out of the hospital.
In November 2018, a workplace fall resulting in three fractured ribs would lead doctors to discover two cancerous nodules in Ginsburg’s lungs. The jurist’s ensuing surgery and recovery would be the first time she was not present at the court during a period of oral arguments.
Less than six months after returning to the bench, Ginsburg was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July 2019. She would later undergo three weeks of radiation therapy before returning to work, still unwilling to retire under a conservative administration.
It was revealed shortly after Ginsburg’s July release from the hospital, however, that the jurist’s cancer had re-emerged and was being successfully treated with chemotherapy.
In roughly four decades on the federal bench, Ginsburg remained an immutable member of the court’s activist bloc, siding often in favor of a more elastic view of the U.S. Constitution and a more expansive scope of government in the federal system.
A victim of gender discrimination in her early legal career, the jurist was also known as a progressive stalwart in cases framed as female civil rights battles. The justice had a spotless voting record with regard to the deregulation of abortion and was known for her majority opinion and dissent, respectively, in the female civil rights cases of United States v. Virginia and Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company.
This ideology did not, however, result in bitter partisanship from Ginsburg, who was often described as being respectful and friendly with her conservative colleagues both publicly and behind the scenes.
Ginsburg, for instance, crossed hardline ideological boundaries in 2019 to commend newly confirmed conservative Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh as “very decent, very smart individuals.”
Following a grueling confirmations process in which Kavanaugh was tarred by partisans and political media personalities over unsubstantiated sexual assault allegations, Ginsburg even went so far as to praise the justice for elevating the voices and careers of women in the legal profession. Following his confirmation, Kavanaugh hired only women to clerk for him at the nation’s highest court.
“Justice Kavanaugh made history by bringing on board an all-female law clerk crew,” Ginsburg said. “Thanks to his selections, the court has this term, for the first time ever, more women than men serving as law clerks.”
More notable even than these remarks — and a number of Ginsburg’s controversial legal opinions — was an unexpectedly deep and public friendship the progressive jurist fostered with the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia over years together on the Supreme Court as well as the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Scalia died in February 2016.
Despite overwhelming ideological differences, the two were “best buddies” by Ginsburg’s own account, spending many hours together in travel and debate. They often bonded over their shared humor and love of music, as well as an equal, if opposing, passion for the nation and its founding documents.
ABC News reported that Scalia often spoke fondly of Ginsburg, referring to her as “an intelligent woman and a nice woman and a considerate woman — all the qualities that you like in a person.”
“What’s not to like?” Scalia once quipped at the event hosted by the Smithsonian Associates, according to CNN. “Except her views on the law, of course.”
Ginsburg is survived by her 65-year-old daughter Jane, her 55-year-old son James and four grandchildren. Her husband preceded her in death, passing away in 2010.
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