An icon has died.
On Friday, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died after succumbing to her battle of metastatic pancreas cancer, the court announced.
“Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature. We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts said in a statement. “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 Bill Clinton appointed Ginsburg in 1993, making her the second woman in American history to be appointed to the Supreme Court. Ginsburg served 27 long years and was the most senior member of the court’s liberal wing, leading four other members before her passing. She spent 13 years on the U.S Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit before adding unparalleled value to the nation’s highest judicial court system.
The liberal judge spent the majority of her time advocating and voting in favor of progressive movements on some of the most divisive social issues in America, including abortion rights, same-sex marriages, voting rights, immigration, health care, and affirmative action. It was in 2013 that she became the first Supreme Court Justice to officiate a same-sex marriage ceremony.
Although small in size and soft-spoken, she carried a strong voice, and her presence was admired by many. At speaking events across the nation, in front of liberal audiences, she was welcomed with standing ovations as she shared her view of the law, her famed exercise routines, and her often fiery dissents, CNN reports.
Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1933, her father was from Russia and worked as a furrier and in a men’s clothing store; her mother was a housewife. It was her mother who imbued her passion for learning and scholarship at a young age. In a 2016 New York Times essay, she credits her mother for making “reading a delight” and says she counseled her to constantly be independent and able to fend for herself.
Ginsburg attended Cornell University, where she met her husband Martin Ginsburg, “He was the first boy I ever knew who cared that I had a brain.” The two wed in 1954, after the birth of their first child, daughter Jane, they both went on to Harvard Law School, where Ginsburg was one of nine women in a class of 500.
“My success in law school, I have no doubt, was in large measure because of baby Jane. I attended classes and studied diligently until 4 in the afternoon; the next hours were Jane’s time, spent at the park, playing silly games or singing funny songs, reading picture books and A. A. Milne poems, and bathing and feeding her,” Ginsburg wrote in the Times.
Martin finished law school a year before his wife and took a position at a law firm in New York City. Ginsburg followed him to Manhattan and finished her legal studies at Columbia Law School—tied for first in her class. However, she still failed to secure a top judicial clerkship or even a job at a law firm.
“Not a law firm in the entire city of New York would employ me,” she told TIME in a 1993 interview. “I struck out on three grounds: I was Jewish, a woman and a mother.”
But thanks to those closed doors, Ginsburg found her passion and her area of expertise. During her time as a professor at Rutgers and Columbia’s law schools, she was able to work on women’s rights issues and won five of six cases before the Supreme Court. She also co-founded the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. She’s considered a champion of rights for women with her pioneering sex-discrimination wins; it was in 1996 that she wrote her opinion for the gender discrimination case The United States v. Virginia that the all-male Virginia Military Institute must allow women.
During her career, the liberal icon was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2002. She earned a spot on Forbes 100 most powerful women’s list from 2004-2011, as well as a rock star-type status that nicknamed her the “Notorious R.B.G,” which came after her fiery opinion opposing the conservative court’s 2013 decision to remove voting rights protections. She was celebrated with viral memes and infants in Ginsburg-style Halloween costumes in admiration of her plight for social justice. Ginsburg’s recognition rose among progressives with her subsequent fiery dissents on other topics such as reproductive rights and affirmative action cases.
Ginsburg’s fought four prior cancer diagnoses, PEOPLE reports. In 1999, the justice had surgery for colorectal cancer. She received chemotherapy in 2020 for a recurrence of pancreatic cancer that was first treated in 2009. In November 2018, she suffered three fractured ribs, which led doctors to discover malignant nodules in her lungs, but recovered after they were successfully removed in December 2018—following the surgery, she missed the bench for the first time in January 2019. In the early part of 2020, a biopsy revealed a lesion on her liver. She had said that chemotherapy was yielding “positive results,” and she was able to keep her active daily routine.
“I have often said I would remain a member of the Court as long as I can do the job full steam,” she said in a statement in July 2020. “I remain fully able to do that.” Last year she told an audience at an event hosted by Moment Magazine at the Yale Club in New York that even as she battled cancer, she liked to keep busy. “I found each time that when I’m active, I’m much better than if I’m just lying about and feeling sorry for myself.” She told another audience that she thought she would serve until she was 90, a goal she almost reached.
Ginsburg’s death—less than seven weeks before Election Day— now leaves a vacancy that Trump will likely fill, giving the opportunity to further solidify the conservative majority on the court. Senator Mitch McConnell said Friday evening, President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
According to the NPR, days before her death, the former Justice told her granddaughter Clara Spera: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
But this likely political fight over the future court cannot erase the tremendous work achieved by a woman who broke through the glass ceiling at a time when few women even attended law school. Her liberal attitude is inspiring to many younger generations who also advocate fast-forwarding towards progression.
“It makes absolute sense that Justice Ginsburg has become an idol for younger generations,” Justice Elena Kagan said at an event at the New York Bar Association in 2014. “Her impact on America and American law has been extraordinary.” As a litigator and then as a judge, she changed the face of American anti-discrimination law,” Kagan said. “She can take credit for making the law of this country work for women and in doing so she made possible my own career.”
Ginsburg died at her home in Washington, D.C. surrounded by family members. A private interment service is to be held at Arlington National Cemetery, the Supreme Court said in its press release. She is survived by her husband, Martin David Ginsburg daughter Jane Carol Ginsburg and son Steven Ginsburg, and four grandchildren, two step-grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.