Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

click to enlarge Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87
Hilary Swift/The New York Times
“There’s only one prediction that’s entirely safe about the upcoming term,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said last month at Georgetown’s law school. “It will be momentous.”
By Adam Liptak
The New York Times Company

WASHINGTON — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday of “complications of metastatic pancreas cancer,” the Supreme Court announced.

“Our nation has lost a jurist of historic stature,” Chief Justice John Roberts 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.”

The development will give President Donald Trump the opportunity to name her replacement, and Senate Republicans have promised to try to fill the vacancy even in the waning days of his first term. The confirmation battle, in the midst of a pandemic and a presidential election, is sure to be titanic.

Trump has appointed two members of the Supreme Court, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, moving the court slightly to the right. The replacement of Ginsburg, the leader of the court’s four-member liberal wing, could transform the court into a profoundly conservative institution, one in which Republican appointees would outnumber Democratic ones six to three.

In 2016, Senate Republicans refused to consider President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, saying that holding hearings in the last year of a president’s term would deprive voters of a role in the process.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, led the effort to block Garland’s nomination. But he has said he will press to fill any vacancy that might arise in the last year of Trump’s first term.

McConnell and his allies say the two situations are different. Where one party controls the Senate and the other the presidency, as in 2016, they say, vacancies should not be filled in a presidential election year. Where the same party controls both the Senate and presidency, they argue, confirmations may proceed.

Democrats say this is hairsplitting hypocrisy that damages the legitimacy of the court. But they may have little practical power to stop a third Trump nominee after changes in Senate rules on filibusters on nominations. All it takes now is a majority vote to confirm judicial nominees.

Ginsburg, who was 87, had repeatedly vowed to stay on the court as long as her health held and she stayed mentally sharp. “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 July, announcing a recurrence of cancer. “I remain fully able to do that.”

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