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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

By
Nicholas Sakelaris & Danielle Haynes
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died two months after announcing her liver cancer had returned. She was 87. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died two months after announcing her liver cancer had returned. She was 87. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 18 (UPI) -- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday surrounded by her family at home in Washington, D.C., the Supreme Court announced. She was 87.

The court said the liberal justice died of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer. Her death comes two months after she announced her cancer had returned after receiving treatment for the disease in 2019.

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"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."

Former President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush also offered their condolences.

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"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."

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Ginsburg was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year, but in August 2019 said she was doing "very well" after undergoing radiation treatment. In July, she said doctors discovered new lesions on her liver, for which she received chemotherapy.

Despite the diagnoses and a number of other health ailments in recent years, she has continued to serve on the high court bench.

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In her long career, Ginsburg consistently broke through glass ceilings, challenging social norms and using her intellect to win consensus among her peers -- even when her peers were fellow Supreme Court justices.

She was the first tenured female professor at Columbia University, the first woman to join the Harvard Law Review and the second woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton.

"Justice Ginsburg paved the way for so many women, including me. There will never be another like her. Thank you RBG," said former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Ginsburg's passion for advocacy continued in her 27-plus years on the U.S. Supreme Court.

From gay marriage to Obamacare, Ginsburg tackled some of the biggest social issues of the 21st Century.

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She was born Ruth Joan Bader on March 15, 1933, in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Nathan and Cecelia Bader. She went to James Madison High School in Brooklyn, where she excelled in her studies. Her mother battled cancer for several years and died the day before Ginsburg graduated from high school.

Ginsburg attended Cornell University, where she finished first in her class in 1954. She married Martin Ginsburg that same year.

They had a daughter, Jane, who was born shortly before Martin Ginsburg was drafted into the military in 1954, leaving Ruth Bader Ginsburg to raise their daughter alone. Martin Ginsburg served two years before he was discharged.

Then the couple enrolled in Harvard University's law school, a male-dominated environment with eight women out of 500 students.

In 1956, her husband got testicular cancer, which required treatment and rehabilitation that forced him to miss class. Ruth Bader Ginsburg attended classes for both of them, taking notes and typing papers. When Martin recovered, he graduated from law school, in large part because of his wife's help. The story is depicted in the film On the Basis of Sex.

After law school, she clerked for U.S. District Judge Edmund L. Palmieri and taught at the Rutgers University Law School and at Columbia.

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The discrimination that Ruth Bader Ginsburg experienced in her early years drove her to push boundaries and take on gender discrimination. In the 1970s, she was the director of the Women's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. There, she argued six cases before the U.S. Supreme Court decades before she would sit on that bench.

President Jimmy Carter appointed Ginsburg to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1980. She served there until 1993 when President Bill Clinton appointed her to the U.S. Supreme Court to replace the seat vacated by Justice Byron White.

She was confirmed by the Senate 96-3.

On the Supreme Court, Ginsburg continued to advocate for gender equality, the rights of workers and separation of church and state. She wrote the Supreme Court's landmark decision in United States vs. Virginia that said the Virginia Military Institute couldn't refuse women.

In 1999, she won the American Bar Association's Thurgood Marshall Award for her contributions to gender equality and civil rights.

She also famously objected to the majority opinion in Bush vs. Gore case that decided the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. She said "I dissent," noticeably leaving out the word "respectfully."

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In 2015, Ginsburg sided with the majority in the King vs. Burwell case that allowed the federal government to offer subsidies for the Affordable Care Act. The next day, she cast the deciding vote in the Obergefell v. Hodges case that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

Her granddaughter Clara Spera was inspired by her "Bubbie's" determination and was taught from a young age that she could get any job she wanted. She celebrated her 3rd birthday at the Supreme Court in 1993, shortly after Ginsburg had been confirmed. In May 2018, Spera became a lawyer in New York.

In her mid-80s, Ginsburg said she intended to remain on the Supreme Court for at least another five years even as fellow liberal Justice Anthony Kennedy retired. In a show of defiance in 2018, she hired law clerks through 2020.

"I'm now 85," Ginsburg told CNN in August 2018. "My senior colleague, Justice Paul Stevens, he stepped down when he was 90, so I think I have about at least five more years."

She's a three-time cancer survivor and dealt with a number of other health problems over the years, but never let that slow her down.

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She had surgery for colon cancer in 1999 and underwent chemotherapy treatment. In 2009, she had treatment for pancreatic cancer and went through chemotherapy treatments again. In 2014, she had a stent placed in her right coronary artery.

In November 2018, Ginsburg fractured three ribs when she fell in her office. She left the hospital the next day. A few weeks later, Ginsburg greeted 31 new U.S. citizens at the National Archives. She gave a stirring speech about her own father who moved to the United States from Russia at age 13.

She was hospitalized again in December to remove cancerous lung nodules that were found while doctors were treating her for the fall the previous month. She continued to work from her hospital bed just days after the treatment. The cancer was contained and didn't spread, doctors said.

Ginsburg is the second Supreme Court justice to die in office since 2016 -- the other being Antonin Scalia. Ginsburg's death gives President Donald Trump the chance to nominate a third justice to the Supreme Court, this time less than 50 days before a presidential election.

President Barack Obama faced a roadblock by the Republican-led Senate when Scalia died nine months before the 2016 election. The Senate insisted the next president should nominate Scalia's replacement.

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"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," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said at the time.

The senator from Kentucky released a statement late Friday saying he planned to hold a floor vote for Trump's nominee when he announces one.

"In the last midterm election before Justice Scalia's death in 2016, Americans elected a Republican Senate majority because we pledged to check and balance the last days of a lame-duck president's second term. We kept our promise. Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite-party president's Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year," McConnell said.

"By contrast, Americans re-elected 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. Once again, we will keep our promise."

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called on the country "to fight as hard as we can to preserve her legacy."

"Tonight, we mourn the passing of a giant in American history, a champion for justice, a trailblazer for women," he tweeted.

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Spera, Ginsburg's granddaughter, said that days before her death, the justice dictated a statement to her:

"My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed," she said, according to NPR.

Ginsburg's husband, Martin Ginsburg, died of cancer in 2010. Ruth Bader Ginsburg described her husband of 56 years as her biggest booster and "the only young man I dated who cared that I had a brain."

She is survived by her children, attorney Jane Carol, 63, and music producer James Steven, 53.

She ranked in the top 10 Most Admired Women of 2018 on a Gallup Survey.

Notable deaths of 2020

Richard Thornburgh
Richard "Dick" Thornburgh, former attorney general of the United States and former governor of Pennsylvania, takes a seat at the witness hearing after U.S. Chief Justice nominee Judge John Roberts testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on September 15, 2005. Thornburgh died on December 31 at age 88. Photo by Yuri Gripas/UPI | License Photo

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