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Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the enigmatic, longtime Supreme Court justice who attained near cult-like status among progressive circles, died Friday the 18th in the year 2020 at the age of 87 from complications surrounding metastatic pancreatic cancer.
The late Supreme Court justice, who spent more than two decades on the bench in the highest court of the land, is survived by her two children, Jane Carol and James Steven Ginsburg.
“Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. said in a Friday evening statement. “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, who was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, was known for her soft-spoken demeanor that masked an analytical mind, a deep concern for the rights of every American and a commitment to upholding the Constitution.
“She changed the way the Supreme Court views the issue, and she changed millions of people’s lives in the process,” said David Schizer, who served as a law clerk during Ginsburg’s first year on the high court bench in 1993. “She did it with her soft-spoken, quiet manner. She understood if you’re trying to do something momentous, you should present it as quite ordinary.”
She had battled back from two forms of cancer in the past but her health began to take a downturn in December 2018 when she underwent a pulmonary lobectomy after two malignant nodules were discovered in the lower lobe of her left lung.
On Jan. 7, 2019, the Court announced she would miss oral arguments that day for the first time since she joined as she continued to recuperate from that surgery.
From Brooklyn to the bench
Born in 1933 in Brooklyn, N.Y., young Ruth’s early influence was her mother, Celia, who instilled in her daughter the value of education and dignity. “She taught me,” Ginsburg said, “be someone who holds fast to her convictions and her self-respect, someone who is a good teacher, but doesn’t snap back in anger. Recriminations do no good.”
To her lifelong sadness, Ruth Bader’s mother died of cancer the day before her high school graduation in 1948.
She finished first in her class as a Cornell undergrad. Later at Harvard and Columbia Law Schools, she juggled raising a daughter, helping her husband Martin recover from cancer, and finishing her own studies. As one of nine women at Harvard Law, her initial reception was chilly, with one professor telling her and the eight other women of the Class of 1959 how it felt to take the spots that should have gone to more “qualified” men.
She made the law review, and finished as the top student at Columbia, where she had transferred in her third year. Those impeccable academic credentials evidently were not good enough for Ginsburg to get a job in a New York law firm or a top judicial clerkship. So she went into teaching, and found a new calling.
“Those experiences along with others really galvanized her interest in women’s rights litigation,” said Margo Schlanger, a Washington University law professor and former Ginsburg law clerk.
Her personal experiences collided with monumental social changes in the 1960s. While teaching at Rutgers, Ginsburg feared losing her non-tenured position when she became pregnant, so she wore large clothing to hide it. One of the first cases she helped litigate involved teachers forced to give up their jobs when they became pregnant.
“I had the great fortune to be alive and a lawyer in the late 1960s,” said Ginsburg, “when for the very first time in the history of this country it became possible to urge before courts successfully that society would benefit enormously if women were regarded as people equal in stature to men.”
With the help of her students, Ginsburg argued six cases before the Supreme Court in the 1970s, winning five of them before an all-male group that included her future benchmates William Rehnquist, Harry Blackmun, and John Paul Stevens.
Her strategy was to take a measured approach, carefully choosing cases that would promote equality but not appear radical to often skeptical federal courts.
Ginsburg also tried to expand the 14th Amendment’s traditional ban on racial discrimination to gender, and to show the effect stereotyping had on limiting opportunities for women.
“Race discrimination was immediately perceived as evil, odious, and intolerable,” Ginsburg said during her 1993 confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court. “But the response I got when I talked about sex discrimination was, ‘What are you talking about? Women are treated ever so much better than men.’ I was talking to an audience that thought… I was somehow critical about the way they treated their wives and their daughters.”
Among the cases she argued: Weinberger v. Wisenfeld (1975), in which a father wanted to stay home and take care of his young son after his wife had died suddenly in childbirth. Social Security would not pay benefits for the man, even though had the situation been reversed, the woman would receive money, based on the man’ salary. The thinking was: husbands earned the money, the wife took care of the house and family. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously for the father.
But that careful approach and her belief that “courts needed to be educated” had its critics. Some feminists believed differences in the sexes, in many cases, should allow for preferred treatment for women, instead of a pure gender-neutral lens.
“I know there are people who think those cases didn’t go far enough,” said Schlanger, “and the theories of equality that say men and women should be treated basically without much distinction by the law is not everyone’s favorite approach to equality. But that’s not a view [held by more radical gender activists] that was very likely to succeed, and her approach did succeed.”
That success brought Ginsburg a national reputation and in 1980 President Jimmy Carter nominated her to the prestigious U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Thirteen years later, President Clinton chose her to fill the Supreme Court seat of retiring Justice Byron White, citing not only her experience but her “big heart.”
Ironically some of the opposition to her nomination came from feminists, who did not like her criticism over the legal reasoning of Roe v. Wade, which permitted abortion. That ruling grounded first trimester abortions in the right to privacy, thereby overturning state laws that varied widely on access to the procedure. Ginsburg believed a more gradual liberalization to abortion would have kept the issue back in the states, avoiding the social and political upheaval that has been part of Roe’s legacy. The law on abortion was evolving at the time of Roe, Ginsburg recalled in 2005. “The Supreme Court stopped all that by deeming every law– even the most liberal– as unconstitutional. That seemed to me not the way courts generally work.”
But Ginsburg, in her rulings, upheld reproductive choice. “When government controls that decision for her, she’s being treated as less than a full adult human being responsible for her own choices,” she said during her confirmation.
In 1999, came a near tragedy. Diagnosed with colon cancer, she underwent emergency surgery, yet two weeks later, she was back on the bench. While keeping up her workload, she had chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Her only public words at the time: “I am still mending but have progressed steadily.”
“Some of us were angry with her, but we were wrong,” Schizer said. “We kept telling her to slow down, we kept telling her to take it easy, I sent her a couple of fiction books to read, and she wouldn’t have any of it. She just bore down, went through the [cancer] treatment, treated it as part of her work. It was a lesson to me in how to deal with adversity, and she dealt with it with grace. And she basically refused to let anyone help her, because the way she could help herself was by doing things herself.”
A 2009 diagnosis for pancreatic cancer led to fears she would retire then, but again, Ginsburg was back on the job within days, even working on her caseload from the hospital bed after initial surgery to remove the tumor. A year later, she was on the bench the day after her husband Martin died from cancer, telling friends privately he would have wanted it that way.
Later in her career, she developed an Internet cult following as the “Notorious RBG,” for her blistering dissents on divisive issues, and for her octogenarian workout routines inside the court’s gym. But controversy followed her, too, for her pointed 2016 criticism of then-candidate Donald Trump, calling him, among other things a “faker.”
Dreams come true
The power of a justice comes from the strength of the opinions she writes, whether it breaks new constitutional ground, or affirms existing precedent. Bridging consensus helps build allies to one’s views on often hot-button issues. Ginsburg, say legal scholars, tended to rule on procedure, rather than establishing broad principles of social reform. That strategy not to overreach won her admiration from her more conservative colleagues, but her generally liberal record remained intact.
Yet she never backed down from her often tough-sounding rhetoric. On the death penalty, she wrote a 2004 majority opinion slamming Texas prosecutors for their behavior in a capital trial, which the Court found was riddled with errors, and worse. “When police or prosecutors conceal significant exculpatory or impeaching material, we hold it is ordinarily incumbent on the state to set the record straight,” she wrote. “A rule declaring ‘prosecutor may hide, defendant must seek,’ is not tenable in a system constitutionally bound to accord defendants due process.”
Dissenting in 2003’s high-profile case throwing out Michigan’s controversial affirmative action program for undergraduate students, Ginsburg declared, “The stain of generations of racial oppression is still visible in our society, and the determination to hasten its removal remains vital.”
Perhaps Ginsburg’s most important ruling in her early years on the bench was on a subject she knew well. In 1996’s U.S. v. Virginia, the Court ordered state officials to admit women to formerly all-male Virginia Military Institute.
In her landmark opinion, she concluded the “skeptical scrutiny of official action denying rights or opportunities based on sex responds to volumes of history.” She noted efforts to create an elite military corps “is great enough to accommodate women, who today count as citizens in our American democracy equal in stature to men. Just as surely, the State’s great goal is not substantially advanced by women’s categorical exclusion, in total disregard of their individual merit.”
In law and life, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a role model to the many people she encountered over the years. Her message of success and tolerance go hand in hand, as she explained in 1999, just a month after undergoing cancer surgery: “The challenge is to make and keep our communities places where we can understand, accommodate and celebrate our differences while pulling together for the common good.”
Ginsburg added: “No door should be closed to people willing to spend the hours of effort needed to make dreams come true.”
Opinion: Ginsburg made the law fairer for every woman
Editor’s note: Mary Ziegler, a law professor at Florida State University, is the author of “Abortion and the Law in America: Roe v. Wade to the Present.” The views expressed here are hers.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing marks the end of an era in more ways than one. Having repeatedly beaten cancer, Ginsburg had come to almost seem invincible. She was a larger than life figure who became a hero to many young women trying to follow the path she forged in the legal profession. Ginsburg’s age and frail health were no secret, but her loss still comes as a shock. Perhaps more than any other jurist, Ginsburg transformed the law of sex discrimination in America. It is hard to imagine the Supreme Court without her.
Even before joining the Supreme Court, she convinced an all-male Supreme Court that laws enforcing sex stereotypes violated the Constitution — and demonstrated how those laws harmed men as well as women. Ginsburg helped make sense of how discrimination against pregnant workers could be pernicious. On the court, Ginsburg offered the clearest and most cogent defense of abortion rights. She showed that sex discrimination involved often-baseless generalizations — a conclusion that helped advance successful equality claims made by LGBTQ+ groups. Ginsburg has become an icon for a reason. Her impact on constitutional jurisprudence is hard to overestimate.
What we know about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death and the brewing battle over her successor:
But Ginsburg’s death has also transformed the presidential election and set up a monumental battle on Capitol Hill, as senior Republicans signal their intent to hold a vote on a successor just four years after blocking President Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee.
Here’s what you need to know as morning nears on the east coast:
- Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday due to complications of metastatic pancreas cancer, the court announced. She was 87. Ginsburg was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and cast votes on abortion rights, same-sex marriage, voting rights, immigration, health care, affirmative action and many more of the most debated issues of recent times.
- Ginsburg was honored by figures on both sides of the aisle on Friday. Chief Justice John Roberts said “our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature,” while Hillary Clinton said “Justice Ginsburg paved the way for so many women, including me. There will never be another like her.” Former President Bill Clinton said “Ginsburg’s life and landmark opinions moved us closer to a more perfect union,” while current President Donald Trump added: “She led an amazing life. What else can you say?,” hailing Ginsburg as a “brilliant mind.”
- But minutes after her death was announced, a fight to replace Ginsburg on the Supreme Court began. Addressing the liberal justice’s death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday evening, “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.” Four years ago, McConnell led an 11-month Republican blockade of President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, arguing that a president should not be able to seat a new justice in the final year of their term.
- A source close to the President told CNN that Trump has been “salivating” to nominate a replacement for the liberal stalwart even before her death on Friday and the possibility of picking a replacement for Ginsburg has weighed on his mind. The White House is prepared to move “very quickly” on putting forward a nominee to replace Ginsburg once Trump signals his intentions, a senior administration official said Friday night.
- Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has responded to Republican efforts to fire the starting gun on the replacement process, saying: “Let me be clear: The voters should pick a President, and that President should select a successor to Justice Ginsburg.”
- And Obama called on senators to fulfill the precedent they set four years ago, writing: “A basic principle of the law — and of everyday fairness — is that we apply rules with consistency, and not based on what’s convenient or advantageous in the moment … As votes are already being cast in this election, Republican Senators are now called to apply that standard.”
Opinion: Grant Ruth Bader Ginsburg her wish
From Frida Ghitis
Editor’s note: Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. The views expressed in this commentary belong to the author.
There’s no woman in the United States whose life, career and security was not bolstered by the work of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
We are all in her debt. That’s true for all of us, young and old, Democrat or Republican. We should keep that in mind as we consider her dying wish. As the end of her life approached, Ginsburg dictated to her granddaughter a message for us:
“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
President Trump has to chose a Supreme Court Justice. This will serve as a backup plan in case he loses the election. A conservative Supreme Court will protect his Presidency, it will also protect the Constitution.
McConnell asserted shortly after Ginsburg’s passing that he intended to bring a Trump nominee to the Senatefloor for a vote.And a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal discussions, confirmed Trump intends to choose a nominee soon, though declined to discuss a specific timeline.
“President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,” McConnell said.
“Americans reelected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018 because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary,” he added. “Once again, we will keep our promise.”
But while Republicans may be eager to move quickly, the process is certain to get swept up in the divisive presidential election and the actual timeline could depend on the outcome of the November election. Several GOP senators have expressed reservations in the past about moving a confirmation so close to an election.
The vacancy has major implications for the court, handing Trump an opportunity to create a solidly conservative court perhaps for decades to come.
cnn.com, “Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died,” By Fernando Alfonso III, Veronica Rocha, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Rob Picheta; foxnews.com, “Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dead at 87,” By Bill Mears; snopes.com, “Did Ruth Bader Ginsburg Say that Pedophilia Was Good for Children?” By Dan Evon; usatoday.com, “McConnell says Senate will vote on Trump’s nominee to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat,” By John Fritze, David Jackson, Christal Hayes, Phillip M. Bailey; dissentpins.com, “Ruth’s Truths: The lies people tell about RBG,”
Did Ruth Bader Ginsburg Say that Pedophilia Was Good for Children?
A 1974 report co-authored by Ruth Bader Ginsburg about sex bias in U.S. law has been grossly misinterpreted.
This is not a genuine quote from Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
This claim is based upon a gross misinterpretation of another misinterpretation, which was itself based upon a simple misreading of a 1974 report entitled “The Legal Status of Women Under Federal Law” that was co-authored by Ginsburg, who at the time was a professor of law at the Columbia Law School. The other co-author was Brenda Feigen-Fasteau, a former director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s women’s rights project.
In 1974 Ginsburg and Feigen-Fasteau published a report examining how federal law frequently employed gendered language. This report was used as the basis for the “Sex Bias in the U.S. Code,” a report published in 1977, which included a passage explaining the purpose of the study:
The Constitution, which provides the framework for the American legal system, was drafted using the generic term “man.” While the United States Supreme Court, the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution, might have determined that “man” also means “woman” in terms of rights, duties, privileges, and obligations under the Constitution, the Court instead has chosen on numerous occasions to deny to women certain rights and privileges not denied to men.
While explaining the “equality principle” and arguing that pronouns should be altered in the existing penal code so that both men and women were equally accountable for crimes against both boys and girls, Ginsburg quoted a proposed 1973 Senate bill as an example of legislation which used gender neutral language:
The 1973 Senate bill, S. 1400, in §1636, provides a definition of rape that in substance conforms to the equality principle:
A person is guilty of an offense if he engages in a sexual act with another person, not his spouse, and (1) compels the other person to participate: (A) by force or (B) by threatening or placing the other person in fear that any person will imminently be subjected to death, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping; (2) has substantially impaired the other person’s power to appraise or control the conduct by administering or employing a drug or intoxicant without the knowledge or against the will of such other person, or by other means; or (3) the other person is, in fact, less than 12 years old.
It is the highlighted line that has been repeatedly misinterpreted and distorted over the ensuing decades.
It appears that Ginsburg was first accused of wanting to lower the age of consent to 12 shortly before she was confirmed to the Supreme Court in 1993.
However, Ginsburg never actually said that the age of consent should be lowered to 12.
Ginsburg’s report was about changing gendered language, not the age of consent, in our existing laws. In the quoted passage, she was not arguing for or against lowering the age of consent; rather, she was quoting a proposed Senate bill as an example of how appropriate gender-neutral pronouns should be used. Ginsburg wrote that she used this bill because it “conform(ed) to the equality principle,” not because she agreed with the presented age of consent.
Furthermore, Ginsburg mentioned another section of the penal code a few paragraphs earlier which referenced a different age of consent: 16. In both cases, Ginsburg’s focus was on the gender of the victim, rather than the age, as her report was specifically concerned with gendered-language in U.S. law:
18 U.S.C. § §1154 and 2032 make it a crime for a person to have carnal knowledge of a female, not his wife, who has not attained the age of sixteen years.
The “statutory rape” offense defined in these sections follows the traditional pattern: the victim must be a female and the offender, a male. Protection of the girl’s virtue as an asset to be traded by her family at marriage time can no longer survive as a justification for such provisions. The immaturity and vulnerability of young people of both sexes can be protected through appropriately drawn, sex-neutral proscriptions.
It started in 1993, after Ginsburg was nominated to the Supreme Court, when this report was quoted out of context as evidence that Ginsburg wanted to lower the age of consent to 12. As this errant argument was reiterated by pundits such as Sean Hannity it morphed from a single out of context quote to an alleged personal belief at the core of Ginsburg’s political views. When the “Pizzagate” controversy exploded during the 2016 presidential election, this rumor underwent another devolution as conspiracy theorists claimed that Ginsburg once wrote that she wanted to legalize child rape.
In February 2018, this rumor took one more step away from reality when a meme featuring a quote ostensibly uttered by Ginsburg arguing that pedophilia was good for children went viral online.
Lie #2: RBG said she’d resign if Kavanaugh were confirmed.
Any truth to this rumor? Nope.
Ironically enough, RBG has recently said quite the opposite:
“I’m now 85. My senior colleague, Justice John Paul Stevens, he stepped down when he was 90, so think I have about at least five more years.”
– Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Fact checking sources on this rumor:
Lie #3: Ruth Ginsburg Threatens to ‘Resign from SCOTUS’ If Trump Is Elected President
Has RBG ever said anything like this? No.
This one has been circulating since before Trump was even inaugurated on websites and across social media. It’s wishful thinking for some, but it’s portrayed as evidence that RBG has gone back on her word.
She hasn’t, of course, but the truth is no hinderance to RBG’s critics.
Fact checking sources on this rumor:
- Supreme Court’s Ginsburg not retiring, despite what fake news headline says
- Ruth Ginsburg Threatens to ‘Resign from SCOTUS’ If Trump Is Elected President Snopes.com
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