WASHINGTON – Liberal icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday night at the age of 87, and her death will spark a political battle over whether President Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate will name her replacement.
A conservative replacement for Ginsburg will shift the court further to the right for generations. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said the Senate would move to confirm a replacement, even though it refused to consider then-President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the seat of Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016.
Nina Totenberg, NPR’s Supreme Court correspondent and a longtime friend of Ginsburg’s, reported that the justice in recent days dictated a statement to her granddaughter Clara Spera: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
Ginsburg had resisted overtures that she retire when Obama was still president, and had hoped to continue to serve until the age of 90. But she was diagnosed with a return of cancer earlier this year, and the Supreme Court said she died of complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer.
President Bill Clinton appointed Ginsburg in 1993, the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court.
“Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature,” Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. said. “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.”
In July, announcing her latest bout with cancer, Ginsburg said: “I have often said I would remain a member of the court as long as I can do the job full steam, I remain fully able to do that.”
She had surgery for lung cancer and radiation treatment for pancreatic cancer in recent years. She had also been diagnosed with early-stage pancreatic cancer in 2009 and treatment for colon cancer a decade earlier.
She was the senior justice among the court’s four liberals. It has five conservatives, two of whom – Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – were named by Trump. Roberts is now at the center of the court, and played the pivotal role this term as the court confronted issues like abortion and Trump’s financial records.