Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Is Dead

Her death creates a vacancy on the Supreme Court just weeks before the presidential election and is likely to spark a major political fight.


Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died, the Supreme Court announced on Friday night.

Ginsburg, who was 87 years old and had battled cancer on and off since 1999, died surrounded by her family at her home in Washington, D.C., the Court said in a statement. Ginsburg served on the Court for more than 27 years after her 1993 appointment by President Bill Clinton. At the time, she was only the second woman in U.S. history to be named to the country's highest court.

"Our nation has lost a jurist of historic stature," Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement.

Ginsburg rose to prominence during the women's rights movement of the 1970s while working as an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia by President Jimmy Carter in 1980.

During her time on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg was known as a liberal firebrand and a feminist icon—and even, in the final years of her life, a meme.

Her death leaves a vacancy on the nine-judge bench less than two months before a presidential election, and seems almost certain to set off a major political fight. President Donald Trump has already appointed two justices to the Supreme Court during his first term—Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh—and may now have the opportunity to appoint a third if the Republican-controlled Senate agrees to move the nomination quickly.

Just days before Ginsburg's death, NPR reports that the justice told her granddaughter that "my most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed."

When Justice Antonin Scalia died in the summer of 2016, however, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) infamously refused to consider the confirmation of a replacement until after that fall's presidential election. All eyes will now be upon McConnell to see how he handles this new vacancy.

Initial reports indicate that Trump may name a nominee in the near future, but Republicans would need significant support in the Senate for a confirmation to occur. McConnell, in a statement, said he would bring Trump's nominee to a vote on the Senate floor, but other Republican senators have reportedly cast doubt on that.*

It is perhaps poetic that Ginsburg and Scalia are linked in that way, through their deaths, since they were also close friends in life despite holding deeply diverging views about politics and the law. At a time when America is deeply in need of a reminder that political disagreements need not transcend basic civility or mutual respect, their example should remain.

For more about Ginsburg's career and legacy, read Reason's Damon Root on "The Case of the Notorious RBG."

*UPDATE: This post was updated to include McConnell's statement.