Tributes and remembrances poured in across Washington on Friday night for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the iconic liberal and champion for women's rights who died of complications from pancreatic cancer at 87.
“Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement announcing Ginsburg’s death. “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,” Roberts said in a statement.
Former President Bill Clinton, who nominated Ginsburg to the nation's highest court in 1993, released a statement saying that "her 27 years on the Court exceeded even my highest expectations when I appointed her.”
“He landmark opinions advancing gender equality, marriage equality, the rights of people with disabilities, the rights of immigrants, and so many more moved us closer to a more perfect union,” Clinton said. “Her powerful dissents, especially her ringing defense of voting rights and other equal protection claims, reminded us that we walk away from our Constitution’s promise at our peril. And she did it all with kindness, grace, and calm, treating even her strongest adversaries with respect. Hillary and I will miss her terribly, and will be forever grateful for her life’s work and friendship. Our thoughts and prayers are with Jane, James, their families, and everyone across America who looked to Justice Ginsburg for guidance, inspiration and strength.”
We have lost one of the most extraordinary Justices ever to serve on the Supreme Court. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life and landmark opinions moved us closer to a more perfect union. And her powerful dissents reminded us that we walk away from our Constitution’s promise at our peril. pic.twitter.com/dDECiBxae6
— Bill Clinton (@BillClinton) September 19, 2020
“Justice Ginsburg paved the way for so many women, including me,” tweeted Hillary Clinton, who was the first woman to be nominated by a major party for president. “There will never be another like her. Thank you RBG.”
Ginsburg was the second woman appointed to the bench, after Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
Former President George W. Bush released a statement highlighting Ginsburg’s work for equal rights.
“Laura and I join our fellow Americans in mourning the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Bush said. “She dedicated many of her 87 remarkable years to the pursuit of justice and equality, and she inspired more than one generation of women and girls. Justice Ginsburg loved our country and the law. Laura and I are fortunate to have known this smart and humorous trailblazer, and we send our condolences to the Ginsburg family.”
In a statement, former President Jimmy Carter, who appointed Ginsburg to the the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1980, called her a “powerful legal mind and a staunch advocate for gender equality” and “a beacon of justice.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered the flags at the U.S. Capitol to be flown at half-staff to mark Ginsburg’s passing.
“The loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is devastating," Pelosi said in a statement. “Justice Ginsburg embodied justice, brilliance and goodness, and her passing is an incalculable loss for our democracy and for all who sacrifice and strive to build a better future for our children.”
Pelosi added: “We must honor Justice Ginsburg’s trailblazing career and safeguard her powerful legacy by ensuring that the next Associate Justice of the Supreme Court upholds her commitment to equality, opportunity and justice for all."
Ruth Bader Ginsburg embodied justice, brilliance and goodness. Her passing is an incalculable loss for our democracy and for all who sacrifice and strive to build a better future for our children. pic.twitter.com/BufY4jXPR8
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) September 19, 2020
Ginsburg's death is likely to set off a heated battle over the vacancy it leaves on the nation’s highest court.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement that Ginsburg a "would want us all to fight as hard as we can to preserve her legacy."
In a follow-up tweet, Schumer copied the language of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after the February 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Schumer argued that “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.”
McConnell blocked then-President Barack Obama's nominee to replace Scalia, Merrick Garland, nine months before the 2016 election. Ginsburg’s vacancy comes less than two months before the 2020 election.
Barack Obama's statement on Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death. pic.twitter.com/qjefvk8Ky4
— Dylan Stableford (@stableford) September 19, 2020
Obama released a lengthy statement late Friday honoring Ginsburg’s legacy as an inspiration to women while arguing against a vote on her replacement so close to an election:
Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought to the end, through her cancer, with unwavering faith in our democracy and its ideals. That’s how we remember her. But she also left instructions for how she wanted her legacy to be honored.
Four and a half years ago, when Republicans refused to hold a hearing or an up-or-down vote on Merrick Garland, they invented the principle that the Senate shouldn’t fill an open seat on the Supreme Court before a new president was sworn in.
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. The rule of law, the legitimacy of our courts, the fundamental workings of our democracy all depend on that basic principle. As votes are already being cast in this election, Republican Senators are now called to apply that standard. The questions before the Court now and in the coming years — with decisions that will determine whether or not our economy is fair, our society is just, women are treated equally, our planet survives, and our democracy endures — are too consequential to future generations for courts to be filled through anything less than an unimpeachable process.
On Friday night, McConnell released an equally lengthy statement mourning Ginsburg's death but also vowed that President Trump’s nominee to fill her seat will receive a vote on the Senate floor.
Trump, who learned of Ginsburg’s passing after a rally in Minnesota, did not mention the political ramifications while reacting to her death.
“She led an amazing life,” Trump said. “What else can you say? She was an amazing woman, whether you agreed or not, she was an amazing woman who led an amazing life. Um, actually saddened to hear. I am saddened to hear that.”
The White House later released a longer statement attributed to Trump.
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
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who was also campaigning in Minnesota on Friday, reacted to Ginsburg’s death in a televised statement upon his return to New Castle Airport in Delaware.
“Ruth Bader Ginsburg stood for all of us,” Biden said. “She was fierce, unflinching in the civil rights of everyone.”
“Tonight and in the coming days, we should focus on the loss of the justice and her enduring legacy,” he continued: “There is no doubt, let me be clear, that the voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider.”
In a statement relayed to her granddaughter in her final days, Ginsburg said “my most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
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