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The Radical Project of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court’s feminist icon, not only changed the law, she also transformed the roles of men and women in society, according to Linda Greenhouse, contributing writer and former Supreme Court Correspondent for The Times.
“I surely would not be in this room today without the determined efforts of men and women who kept dreams alive, dreams of equal citizenship.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the Supreme Court’s feminist icon. Small, soft-spoken, yet fiercely determined, she was an unstoppable force who transformed the law and defied social conventions. “To her fans she’s known as Notorious R.B.G.” Singing: “Supreme Court’s a boys club. She holds it down, no cares given. Who else got six movies about ’em and still livin’?” Ginsburg was hailed as a crusader for women’s rights. Chanting: “D-I-S-S-E-N-T. We’re Notorious R.B.G.!” But her legal legacy was even more sweeping. “The project she brought to the Supreme Court first as the leading women’s rights lawyer of her day, and then as a justice for all those years, I actually think has been kind of misunderstood. She had a really radical project to erase the functional difference between men and women in society. She wanted to make it clear that there should be no such thing as women’s work and men’s work.” “Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the court.” In fact, in many of the landmark cases Ginsburg argued before the Supreme Court as a young lawyer for the A.C.L.U., her clients were often men. One key case involved a man from New Jersey, whose wife died during childbirth. “Stephen Wiesenfeld’s case concerns the entitlement —” He wanted to work less and stay home with his son, but found out only widows, not widowers, were eligible for Social Security payments. “Ruth Ginsburg went to court on his behalf and said that law, that distinction between mothers and fathers incorporates a stereotyped assumption of what women do and what men do in the family, and is unconstitutional.” “Laws of this quality help to keep women not on a pedestal, but in a cage.” “She won. And that was the kind of case that she brought. And it was really very significant in the march toward the court establishing a jurisprudence of sex equality.” What inspired Ginsburg to take on such a bold project, and there was little sign of anything radical in the beginning. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg grew up in Brooklyn in a lower middle-class family. When she was in high school, she was a twirler. You know, a cheerleader with a baton. She was known as Kiki Bader. And she played a very traditional female role in her high school.” Ginsburg’s mother, who’d been a star student until she was forced to drop out of school to put her brother through college, had big ambitions for her daughter. But the day before Ruth’s high school graduation, her mother died of cancer. It was that shattering loss, Ginsburg said many years later, that instilled in her the determination to live a life her mother could have only dreamed about. “I pray that I may be all that she would have been had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve, and daughters are cherished as much as sons.” The other pivotal turn in Ginsburg’s path came during college. She earned a scholarship to Cornell, where she met a jovial sophomore who became the love of her life. “He was the first boy I ever knew who cared that I had a brain.” Theirs was not a typical 1950s marriage, but an equal partnership. “Her husband, Marty, was a fabulous cook, and she was a terrible cook. And Marty did all the cooking.” “In the historic Harvard Yard, you will see your classmates, men from every section of the country.” A year after Marty enrolled at Harvard Law School, Ruth followed, one of only nine women in a class of more than 550, with a new baby girl in tow. “During their time in law school, Marty became very sick. He had cancer. And she basically took all the notes for him and made it possible for him to graduate on time, while in fact, raising their baby and being a law student herself. Marty recovered and their relationship was very central to her work and her understanding of how it was possible to organize society.” This understanding turned into a mission after law school, when Ginsburg took on a legal study in Sweden where feminism was on the rise. “Sweden, where everything and everyone works.” Swedish women weren’t choosing between careers and family, and they inspired the young lawyer. When Ginsburg returned to the U.S., she launched what would become her radical project. As a law professor and leader of the A.C.L.U. Women’s Rights Project, she took on groundbreaking cases to build constitutional protections against gender discrimination. There was a lot of speculation about why a lawyer hailed as a Thurgood Marshall of women’s rights was representing so many men. “People looking back on that had thought, well, she was kind of trying to sweet talk the court. She was trying to give the court cases and plaintiffs that wouldn’t get those nine old guys very upset and kind of, you know, sneak in a doctrine of sex discrimination. And actually, that’s not accurate. She happened to have male clients because they were making claims that were traditionally, were women’s claims. And she wanted to just shake up the preconceived notions when it came to raising families and providing for them and working in the economy. Everybody should be on equal footing.” The legal crusade quickly unleashed profound changes in the law and daily life, but Ginsburg’s own rise to the federal bench took decades, and a lot of lobbying by her husband, a prominent tax attorney, with key old boys club connections. After getting passed over three times, President Carter nominated Ginsburg to be a federal judge in 1980. “The framers had in mind as the way to protect individual rights and liberty.” People were surprised that the A.C.L.U. activist turned out to be a very moderate judge, a centrist who often sided with conservatives, praised judicial restraint, and slammed Roe v. Wade for going too far, too fast. “I am proud to nominate for associate justice of the Supreme Court, Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” Some feminist leaders were concerned when President Clinton tapped Ginsburg for the High Court. “She will be able to be a force for consensus building on the Supreme Court.” But Justice Ginsburg quickly pleased supporters and skeptics alike with her opinions in landmark cases, like the Virginia Military Academy. “May it please the court. V.M.I., the Virginia Military Institute, was established by the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1839.” “V.M.I. was age-old military academy run by the state of Virginia, was men only.” “Stand! Attention!” “It emphasizes competition. It emphasizes standing up to stress. It emphasizes the development of strong character in the face of adversity.” “The question was, did it violate the Constitution to bar women from this school that was entre into the political establishment of the state of Virginia.” Justice Ginsburg believed that omitting women was a constitutional violation. And she ultimately convinced all but one justice, Scalia, to take her position. “The opinion of the court in two cases, the United States against Virginia, will be announced by Justice Ginsburg.” “State actors may not close entrance gates based on fixed notions concerning the roles and abilities of males and females.” “Women will now be walking on the campus of the Virginia Military Institute.” “I think she would say it was the case she was happiest about in her tenure on the court.” “V.M.I. superintendent promises that female cadets will be treated the same as male cadets.” “She used an analysis that increased the level of scrutiny that courts in the future have to give to claims of sex discrimination. I think she found that an extremely satisfying outcome.” Ginsburg’s opinions helped solidify the constitutional protections she’d fought so hard to establish decades earlier. And her grit helped keep her on the bench through colon cancer, pancreatic cancer and the death of her beloved partner. “Justice Ginsburg, even though her husband died yesterday after a battle with cancer, was on the bench.” Ginsburg battled on through it all, unrelentingly tough, but still a consensus builder. She famously forged friendships with right-leaning justices, including Justice Scalia. “You know, what’s not to like? Except her views of the law, of course.” [laughter] Their shared love for opera actually inspired a composer to write a new one, about them. Singing: “We are different, we are one.” “Do you like how you were portrayed in the opera?” “Oh, yes. Especially in the scene where I rescue Justice Scalia, who is locked in a dark room for excessive dissenting.” [laughter] But in her later years, as the court moved to the right, Ginsburg grew bolder in her dissents. “She was not in a position to control the outcome of events. But she was in a position to stake her claim for what the outcome should have been. And she was very strategic and very powerful in using that opportunity.” The opportunity that made her into a rock star came in 2013, when the court struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act. “Ginsburg wrote a lengthy, scathing dissent.” “She was pretty candid in her displeasure with the court’s decision.” “Hubris, pride, is a fit word for today’s demolition of the Voting Rights Act.” Ginsburg’s fiery dissent inspired law students to lay her words to a beat and turn the 80-year-old justice into the Notorious R.B.G. Singing: “Now I’m in the limelight, because I decide right, court has moved right, but my dissents get cites.” Suddenly, Ginsburg went viral. Children’s books to bumper stickers. Halloween costumes to a Hollywood biopic. “What did you say your name was?” “Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” Even her fitness trainer was a sensation. “Justice is blind, but you know man meat when you see it.” When asked about retirement plans, Ginsburg balked. “There was a senator who announced with great glee that I was going to be dead within six months. That senator, whose name I’ve forgotten, is now himself dead.” [laughter] Ginsburg’s stardom only grew after she criticized then-candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential race. “Ginsburg said, ‘I can’t imagine what the country would be with Donald Trump as our president.’” Ginsburg apologized for her remarks, but instead of retreating, she was emboldened. “As a great man once said, that the true symbol of the United States is not the bald eagle, it is the pendulum. And when the pendulum swings too far in one direction, it will go back.” Notorious R.G.B. became a badge of the Trump resistance, and keeping her on the bench became part of the cause. “Health scare for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” “News tonight about the health scare for Supreme Court Justice —” “Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she was hospitalized.” “And those ribs you busted?” “Almost repaired.” After all the spills, surgeries and bouts with cancer, what was it that kept her going? Ginsburg said it was her job on the bench, which she still found exhilarating. But perhaps most of all, it was her radical project, which Ginsburg said was still far from complete. “People ask me, ‘When will you be satisfied with the number of women on the court?’ When they are nine.”
Across the country, vigils are taking place to honor Justice Ginsburg, many of them at courthouses.
Americans paid their respects to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Saturday from the Supreme Court to the steps of her Brooklyn high school to courthouses across the United States.
As evening fell, people were already gathering in Washington Square Park in New York, Winston Square in High Point, N.C., and outside a federal courthouse in Rockford, Ill.
Many were there to pay tribute to a woman whom they admired as a steadfast champion of equality and justice.
Some memorials were being put together by activists urged on by organizers of the Women’s March, which called on women to gather at local courthouses at 8 p.m. on Saturday.
Shannan Williams helped organize a Saturday evening vigil at the Tulsa Federal Courthouse in Oklahoma. With Justice Ginsburg’s death, the well-being of the country is “hanging in the balance,” she said.
In Belleville, Ill., Kerry Warren-Couch planned a Saturday evening vigil, too: “We want to honor her and we want to memorialize her. We also want to demonstrate to other people that we will not let her legacy die.”
A ceremony inside the court is expected as early as Tuesday, according to someone familiar with the plan, followed by an outdoor viewing that would adhere to social-distancing guidelines. A small funeral service is also expected to be held as well as a burial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia later in the week. Her husband, Martin D. Ginsburg, was buried at Arlington in 2010.
Samia Assed, an organizer in Albuquerque who helped put together a vigil that will take place on Saturday evening, said she thought that Justice Ginsburg’s death would be particularly painful for the state’s large immigrant population, and for the women in New Mexico, because of the state’s restrictive abortion laws.
“I think that I can speak for most women that we are devastated by her passing,” she said. “We know we lost a champion.”
More than a hundred mourners gathered outside the Supreme Court on Saturday morning, though the tributes from the previous night had been removed and steel barricades had been erected to block off the stairs.
The court has become a focal point for public mourning of the justice. As news of her death broke on Friday, some in the crowd that formed there sang “Amazing Grace” and recited the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, while others clashed with conservative demonstrators.
On Saturday, people rode in on bikes and scooters, parents brought their young children and the crowd flowed in and out to snap photos in front of the Supreme Court building.
“I was sobbing at home alone last night when I heard the news,” said Kelli Midgley, 52, of Ellicott City, Md. “I wanted to be part of a group of people who were also mourning.”
“I hope we, in this country, can be worthy of her legacy,” Ms. Midgley added.
At the Supreme Court, ahead of candlelight vigils planned for tonight by Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-choice America, the gathering drew a few anti-abortion protesters with a megaphone.
Still other mourners ignored the disruption and mingled quietly among the growing tributes for Justice Ginsburg. The bouquets, personal notes and candles carpeted the space immediately in front of the Supreme Court building and lined the entire block, wrapping around a side street and culminating in a heap of hundreds.
In addition to the tributes outside the Supreme Court, mourners also honored Justice Ginsburg with displays in her native New York City. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced on Saturday that a commission would be formed to select an artist to create a statue of Justice Ginsburg to be erected in Brooklyn, where she was born.
“This statute will serve as a physical reminder of her many contributions to the America we know today,” he said in a statement.
Political frenzy begins as Trump pushes to fill the vacancy.
Saturday began in a sunny, stunned Washington with the lowering of flags to half-staff over federal buildings in commemoration of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
It was a traditional gesture that belied the potentially brutal partisan battle ahead over a replacement for the liberal justice. President Trump’s advisers see a fight over courts as an opportunity to jump-start a stumbling campaign, but they are urging him to do it in a way that does not alienate voters, especially women, Republican aides said.
Mr. Trump, who rolled out a new list of possible Supreme Court picks last week, seized the political initiative early Saturday, issuing a thinly veiled warning to any Republicans thinking about delaying a vote until after the election.
Three big questions loom: Who will Mr. Trump pick to replace Justice Ginsburg? Will Republicans like Susan Collins of Maine stop Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, from quickly forcing a vote? How will voters respond?
Mr. Trump on Saturday said that he expected to nominate his candidate to replace Justice Ginsburg next week, and that his selection would “most likely” be a woman.
But Ms. Collins said on Saturday that she would oppose a vote on a nominee before the November election and suggested that former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Trump’s Democratic challenger, should make the choice if he wins the election.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, told his caucus on a conference call on Saturday that “nothing is off the table for next year” if Republicans pushed through a Supreme Court nomination in the coming weeks, signaling that a Senate Democratic majority could be open to forcing drastic changes to the institutions of the Senate and the Supreme Court.
Mr. Schumer indicated that Democrats, who have few tools at their disposal to block a simple majority vote on a Supreme Court nomination given the Republican control of the Senate, would instead look to retaliate with further institutional changes if they flipped the Senate in November.
“Our No. 1 goal must be to communicate the stakes of this Supreme Court fight to the American people,” Mr. Schumer said, according to a Democrat on the call, who disclosed details of a private conversation on condition of anonymity. “Everything Americans value is at stake: health care, protections for pre-existing conditions, women’s rights, gay rights, workers’ rights, labor rights, voting rights, civil rights, climate change and so much else is at risk.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said any attempt to fill the vacancy on the court would amount to “the height of hypocrisy,” given that Republicans blocked Merrick Garland’s nomination from advancing more than 200 days before the election in 2016.
“It has been reported that Justice Ginsburg’s wish was that the winner of the upcoming election nominate her successor,” Ms. Feinstein said in a statement. “We should all honor that wish and wait until after the presidential inauguration to take action.”
Graham, the Senate Judiciary chairman, retreats from his 2016 vow not to fill a vacancy during an election year.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said on Saturday that he would support “any effort to move forward regarding the recent vacancy created by the passing of Justice Ginsburg,” directly contradicting remarks he made in 2016 when he said he would oppose any effort to fill a Supreme Court vacancy during a presidential election year.
On Twitter, Mr. Graham, a loyal Trump ally who is locked in a surprisingly challenging race in South Carolina, cited Democrats’ decision to eliminate the 60-vote threshold for most judicial nominees in 2013 and the fact that “Chuck Schumer and his friends in the liberal media conspired to destroy the life of Brett Kavanaugh and hold that Supreme Court seat open” as reasons for his change in position.
Mr. Graham, who is now the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and is in position to oversee any judicial confirmation, said in 2016: “I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said, ‘Let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.’”
“You could use my words against me and you’d be absolutely right,” he added.
Mr. Graham’s reversal came as all 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee urged him to delay confirmation hearings on a nominee until after the inauguration of the next president.
“There cannot be one set of rules for a Republican president and one set for a Democratic president, and considering a nominee before the next inauguration would be wholly inappropriate,” the Democrats wrote in a letter to Mr. Graham.
Collins says she opposes a vote on a Supreme Court nominee before the November election.
Senator Susan Collins of Maine said on Sunday that she was opposed to holding a vote on President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee before the November election, and suggested that were he to lose, his successor should ultimately choose a nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The statement from Ms. Collins, a moderate Republican who is considered a swing vote and is facing a bruising re-election fight, narrowed the already slim margin in the Senate in favor of confirming a Supreme Court nominee less than two months before Election Day, complicating the task of Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, who has promised a vote.
It made her the first Republican senator to explicitly say, in the aftermath of Justice Ginsburg’s death, that she would not support such a vote before Nov. 3. Mr. McConnell can afford to lose no more than three Republicans.
“President Trump has the constitutional authority to make a nomination to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, and I would have no objection to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s beginning the process of reviewing his nominee’s credentials,” Ms. Collins said.
But she suggested that if Mr. Biden won the presidency, she would oppose moving forward with a nominee chosen by Mr. Trump.
“In fairness to the American people, who will either be re-electing the president or selecting a new one, the decision on a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court should be made by the president who is elected on Nov. 3,” Ms. Collins said.
It was a carefully calibrated statement from Ms. Collins, who is entangled in the toughest race of her political career in part because she cast a decisive vote to confirm Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh in 2018.
In an apparent reference to 2016, when she was one of only two Republicans who opposed Mr. McConnell’s move to blockade President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court, Ms. Collins warned that, “we must act fairly and consistently — no matter which political party is in power.”
McConnell says the Senate will vote on a Trump nominee, but it’s not clear he has enough votes to confirm a justice.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said late Friday that he would move forward with Mr. Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Ginsburg. But it’s not clear he has enough votes to confirm a new justice just weeks before the presidential election.
“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,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement. “Once again, we will keep our promise. President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
He was notably unclear, however, about the timing, whether he would push for such a vote before the election or wait until a lame-duck session afterward. Several of his members face tough election contests and might balk at appearing to rush a nominee through under such conditions.
Demonstrators Assemble Outside McConnell’s House
Protesters rallied outside the home of Senator Mitch McConnell, after he said he would move forward with President Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, reversing his 2016 position.
[chanting] “Hey, hey, ho, ho! Mitch McConnell has got to go! Hey, hey, ho, ho! Mitch McConnell has got to go! Hey, hey, ho, ho!” [chanting] “Vote him out!” [honking, cheering, sounds of protest] [chanting] “R-B-G!” [chanting] “Vote him out!”
The more moderate Republican senators are a small group, and it is not clear whether they could control enough votes to block Mr. Trump’s nominee. Republicans have 53 votes in the Senate to the Democrats’ 47, and Vice President Mike Pence is allowed to break any ties.
Among the Republican members who hold the crucial votes are Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah.
Mr. Murkowski told Alaska Public Media, during an interview Friday shortly before the announcement of Justice Ginsburg’s death, that she opposed confirming a new justice before the election. “I would not vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee,” she said. “We are 50 some days away from an election.”
There was immediate reaction from a few Republican senators calling for a quick confirmation and vote before Election Day.
Senators Martha McSally of Arizona and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, two other Republican senators facing a tough re-election, each posted statements to Twitter calling for the Senate to vote on Justice Ginsburg’s replacement.
Still, Republicans expressed initial skepticism on Friday night that Mr. McConnell would find enough votes to confirm a new justice in the weeks before the election. And some of them thought Mr. McConnell would also be unable to do so in a lame-duck session if Republicans lose the White House and control of the Senate.
Privately, some party strategists warned that if Democrats won the presidency and the Senate and Republicans seated a new justice before Mr. Biden and the new senators were sworn in, Democrats would exact retribution by ending the filibuster and moving to pack the Supreme Court.
‘A woman of valor, a rock of righteousness’: The Supreme Court justices pay tribute to their colleague.
In statements shot through with grief, all eight remaining members of the Supreme Court on Saturday recalled Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday. Here is a sampling of what they had to say.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said that “our nation has lost a jurist of historic stature.”
“We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague,” he said. “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.”
Justice Clarence Thomas said his colleague had endured her countless health challenges with “grace and courage.”
“Not once did the pace and quality of her work suffer even as she was obviously suffering grievously,” he said. “Nor did her demeanor toward her colleagues diminish. The most difficult part of a long tenure is watching colleagues decline and pass away. And, the passing of my dear colleague, Ruth, is profoundly difficult and so very sad.”
Justice Stephen G. Breyer called her “a great justice; a woman of valor; a rock of righteousness; and my good, good friend.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor celebrated “an American hero” who “spent her life fighting for the equality of all people” and was “a pathbreaking champion of women’s rights.” She added that Justice Ginsburg “welcomed me to the court with a warmth I could not have expected, and I came to feel a special kinship with her.”
Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh said that “no American has ever done more than Justice Ginsburg to ensure equal justice under law for women.”
Two days before Justice Ginsburg’s death, the Supreme Court announced that it would again hear arguments by telephone when the justices return from their summer break, on Oct. 5.
It has been more than six months since the justices met in person. The court had postponed arguments scheduled for March and April in light of the coronavirus pandemic. In May, it embarked on an experiment, hearing arguments by phone and letting the public listen in.
The arguments in October will explore cases on gay rights and foster care, a $9 billion copyright dispute between Google and Oracle, whether Delaware can take account of its judges’ partisan affiliations, police violence, and abuses of the no-fly list.
The cases will be heard by an eight-member court, leaving open the possibility of a deadlocked court. In such cases, the lower court’s ruling stands.
Read statements from key senators as it becomes clear that Republicans will try to force a vote.
Here’s how crucial players in the Senate have indicated they will move on the sudden vacancy on the Supreme Court:
Dianne Feinstein of California, ranking Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee:
Under no circumstances should the Senate consider a replacement for Justice Ginsburg until after the presidential inauguration. Senator McConnell made his position clear in 2016 when he held Justice Scalia’s seat vacant for 10 months so he could deny President Obama an appointment — a goal he himself admitted.
Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, to The New York Times this month, asked about sitting a Supreme Court justice in October:
I think that’s too close, I really do.
Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, in an interview with Alaska Public Media shortly before the announcement of Justice Ginsburg’s death:
I would not vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee. We are 50 some days away from an election.
Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, in July, offering advice to his successor as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee:
I would have to tell him that I wouldn’t have a hearing. But if he decides to have a hearing, that’s his decision. And then whether or not the nominee would come up on the floor before the election would be Chairman McConnell’s decision, and you would have to ask him what he’s going to do in that regard.
Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader:
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.
Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, facing re-election:
This is a clear choice on the future of the Supreme Court between the well-qualified and conservative jurist President Trump will nominate and I will support, and the liberal activist Joe Biden will nominate and Cal Cunningham will support, who will legislate radical, left-wing policies from the bench.
Martha McSally, Republican of Arizona, facing re-election:
This U.S. Senate should vote on President Trump’s next nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.
For Jews, Justice Ginsburg’s death was a poignant loss during the High Holy Days.
The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg resonated deeply with American Jews, many of whom learned that she had died just as they were gathering to celebrate Rosh Hashana, one of the holiest days of the Jewish calendar.
Many said her death lent an air of mourning and concern for the future to a holiday that inaugurates the beginning of the Jewish New Year and elevated themes of renewal, sweetness and repentance.
Rabbi Joel Simonds, founding executive director of the Jewish Center for Justice in Los Angeles, said he learned of Justice Ginsburg’s death two hours before he was to lead online services.
Her death, he said, was another upsetting development in a “year filled with difficult news.”
“Everything she stood for is deeply connected to our Jewish values,” Rabbi Simonds said in an interview. “Standing up for others, being the dissenting opinion when you know that goodness and justice and right are on your side.”
Justice Stephen G. Breyer said in a statement that he learned of his colleague’s death “while I was reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish at the Rosh Hashana service.”
In a joint statement, organizations from the Reform Jewish Movement noted how Justice Ginsburg’s faith informed her fight against injustice.
“Indeed, she spoke often of the many ways in which her Jewish upbringing and faith shaped her sense of justice, including the discrimination against Jews that was part of life even in her native New York City during her formative years,” the Union for Reform Judaism, Central Conference of American Rabbis, and Women of Reform Judaism said. “Justice Ginsburg spoke often of the inspiration she found in the words of Deuteronomy: ‘Justice, Justice shall you pursue.’”
Leaders of other faiths also mourned her passing. The Rev. Michael B. Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, said in a statement that “while on earth Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made God’s work her own.”
“May we follow in her footprints,” he said.
Justice Ginsburg’s death, on the last day of the Jewish year, is powerfully symbolic, said Cindy Rowe, executive director of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action in Boston.
“The fact that God waited until the very last day to take their life away means that that person was so righteous and so holy that God wanted to hold on to that person for as long as possible,” she said. “This was such a moment of holiness that it was the last moment she was taken from us.”
Admirers from her old Brooklyn neighborhood remember Justice Ginsburg as ‘Kiki,’ a whip-smart cello player at Madison High School.
In the hours since her death on Friday, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been remembered as a warrior for women’s rights and a powerful voice of dissent on the Supreme Court. But around Midwood, the neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she grew up, she has been mourned as Kiki from East Ninth Street, a whip-smart cello player and proud member of the class of 1950 at James Madison High School.
“We loved her so much,” said Frieda Gottfried Weitz, a member of the class of ’54. “You say Madison, people say Ruth Bader Ginsburg. An awesome lady.”
Justice Ginsburg holds a place of honor in Brooklyn and at Madison, where her name graces the school’s “Wall of Distinction” alongside notable alumni like Senators Bernie Sanders, class of ’59, and Chuck Schumer, class of ’67. But Ms. Weitz, a retired court reporter who edits the school’s alumni newsletter, said, “as far as we’re concerned, she was the star of stars.”
Governor Cuomo announced plans on Saturday to build a statue of Justice Ginsburg in Brooklyn, her birthplace.
In an interview published in the spring 2020 alumni newsletter, Justice Ginsburg recalled growing up in a two-family house on East Ninth Street, where she loved riding her bike and playing stoopball, dodge ball, jump rope and jacks. Her parents’ first language was Yiddish, but they avoided speaking it in her presence, she wrote. They emphasized education and hoped she would become a high school history teacher.
She attended P.S. 238 and the East Midwood Jewish Center and taught cello in high school. The family had a Chevrolet, but “no TV until my second year in high school,” she wrote. Her nickname back then was Kiki, classmates said.
Like many Brooklynites of the era, she was a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Jackie Robinson, whom she called “beyond wonderful for breaking the color barrier before the Metropolitan Opera did.”
After she joined the Supreme Court in 1993, Justice Ginsburg returned to the neighborhood to cut the ribbon when a student courtroom at Madison was named in her honor in 1994.
And every year in December, she sent a donation to the Madison alumni association, according to its president, Martha Weinstein Alpert, a member of the class of ’57.
Ms. Alpert said the justice always included a gracious note with her check, which Ms. Alpert has since passed on to her granddaughter, a pre-law student who considers the justice her “idol.”
“Kiki — I loved her,” Ms. Alpert said. “I’m devastated, I have to tell you. I just worship this woman. I have never heard in all the years one thing that wasn’t wonderful about her.”
The opera world remembers its ‘greatest advocate.’
Soon after her death was announced, opera singers around the world posted tributes and backstage photos of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who adored the opera so much she attended multiple performances of the same production and even dress rehearsals.
Justice Ginsburg saw her first opera — a condensed version of “La Gioconda” — when she was 11 and quickly became an aficionado. Her close friendship with her conservative colleague Justice Antonin Scalia was based in no small part on their shared love of opera.
“Most of the time, even when I go to sleep, I’m thinking about legal problems,” Justice Ginsburg said in 2015. “But when I go to the opera, I’m just lost in it.”
Francesca Zambello, the director of Washington National Opera and the Glimmerglass Festival, recalled how the audience would cheer when they saw Justice Ginsburg come down the aisle.
“She was our greatest advocate and our greatest spokesperson,” Ms. Zambello said in an interview with Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times’s classical music editor. “She carried this art form.”
In November 2016, she appeared onstage as the Duchess of Krakenthorp during the Washington National Opera’s production of Gaetano Donizetti’s “The Daughter of the Regiment.”
Ms. Zambello said Justice Ginsburg was particularly enamored of the character Brünnhilde, who sacrifices herself at the end of Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung.”
“We had a lot of conversations about Brünnhilde, and why it took a woman to save the world,” she said. “That’s what she said: Only a woman could do it; only a woman could change the course of history. She did always love pieces where the woman was the protagonist.”
The Supreme Court vacancy has abruptly transformed the presidential campaign.
Biden Says Ginsburg Was ‘a Giant’ and ‘a Beloved Figure’
Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee for president, said Justice Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat should not be filled until after the election.
We learned of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is not only a giant in the legal profession but a beloved figure. And my heart goes out to all those who cared for her and care about her. Her opinions and her dissent are going to continue to shape the basis for law for a generation. You know, tonight, and in the coming days, we should focus on the loss of the justice and her enduring legacy. But there is no doubt, let me be clear, that the voters should pick the president, and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider. This was the position the Republican Senate took in 2016 when there were almost 10 months to go before the election. That’s the position the United States Senate must take today. And the election is only 46 days off. I think the fastest justice ever confirmed was 47 days, and the average is closer to 70 days. And so they should do this with full consideration, and that is my hope and expectation what will happen.
The death of Justice Ginsburg instantly upended the nation’s politics in the middle of an already bitter campaign, giving Mr. Trump an opportunity to try to install a third member of the Supreme Court with just weeks before an election that polls show he is currently losing.
It also bolstered Mr. Trump’s effort to shift the subject away from his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and remind Republicans why it matters whether he wins, while also potentially galvanizing Democrats who fear a change in the balance of power on the Supreme Court.
Mr. Biden, the president’s Democratic challenger, said the Supreme Court vacancy should not be filled until after the presidential election.
“There is no doubt — let me be clear — that the voters should pick the president, and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider,” he told reporters after landing at New Castle Airport in Delaware after a campaign trip to Minnesota.
The statement by Mr. Biden, who had previously promised to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court, immediately put him at odds with Mr. McConnell, who said a nominee by Mr. Trump “will receive a vote” in the Senate.
If Mr. Trump is able to replace Justice Ginsburg, a liberal icon, it could cement a conservative majority for years to come, giving Republican appointees six of the nine seats.
No one understood the broader political consequences of her death better than Justice Ginsburg, who battled through one ailment after another in hopes of hanging onto her seat until after the election. Just days before her death, NPR reported, she dictated a statement to Clara Spera, her granddaughter: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
Trump identified his top three Supreme Court nominees from his list of potential picks.
Trump Calls Ginsburg ‘an Amazing Woman’
President Trump spoke about the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg after leaving the stage of a rally in Minnesota.
She just died? Wow. I didn’t know that. I just — you’re telling me now for the first time. She led an amazing life. What else can you say? She was an amazing woman. Whether you agreed or not, she was an amazing woman who led an amazing life. I’m actually saddened to hear that. I am saddened to hear that. Thank you very much. [Song on loudspeaker: “Tiny Dancer”]
On Friday night, Mr. Trump spoke with Mr. McConnell and said his favorites to replace Justice Ginsburg were Judges Amy Coney Barrett of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago; Barbara Lagoa of the 11th Circuit in Atlanta; and Amul R. Thapar of the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, according to two people familiar with the discussion.
The front-runner appeared to be Judge Barrett, a favorite of anti-abortion conservatives who was a finalist for a previous Supreme Court vacancy when the president reportedly said he was “saving her for Ginsburg.”
Judge Lagoa, who is Cuban-American, was the first Hispanic woman appointed to the Florida Supreme Court, in Mr. Trump’s adopted home state. Judge Thapar, the first federal judge of South Asian descent, is a Kentuckian and a personal favorite of Mr. McConnell’s.
Mr. Trump counts his two Supreme Court appointments — Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh — as among his greatest successes, and last week he issued a new list of 20 potential nominees to the court. There was no vacancy at the time, and the exercise seemed aimed at focusing attention on an issue that had helped secure his election in 2016, when similar lists helped persuade wary conservatives to support his unconventional candidacy.
That the new list, which included three senators and two former solicitors general, was issued when there was no vacancy suggested that the move had political aims.
The three Republican senators included on the new list are Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri. Over the nation’s history, it was not unusual for sitting senators to be named to the Supreme Court, though it has been almost half a century since a former senator sat on the court.
All of his candidates, Mr. Trump said, were judicial conservatives in the mold of Justice Antonin Scalia and two current members of the court, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.
Fresh discussion of court packing, a high-stakes move, has Democrats divided.
Justice Ginsburg’s death on Friday revived talk of an idea that has been bandied about for years but, until recently, not feasibly considered by people in a position to enact it: court packing.
The term is commonly associated with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who pushed legislation in 1937 that could have expanded the Supreme Court from nine to as many as 15 justices.
More than eight decades later, the idea of expanding the court is back. Mr. McConnell’s refusal to hold a Senate vote on Merrick Garland, who was nominated to the court in 2016 by President Barack Obama after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, led some Democrats, including the presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, to suggest expanding the court. They argued that Republicans had “stolen” a seat that should have been filled by Mr. Obama, and that Democrats would be justified in adding seats to shift the ideological balance back.
Republicans have called the idea radical and undemocratic, and some Democrats have feared that it could backfire. Mr. Biden rejected the idea last year, telling Iowa Starting Line, “No, I’m not prepared to go on and try to pack the court, because we’ll live to rue that day.”
Mr. McConnell’s declaration on Friday that the Senate would vote on Mr. Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Ginsburg added fuel to the fire, with progressive activists and at least one senator calling publicly for court packing.
“Mitch McConnell set the precedent,” Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, said on Twitter on Friday night. “No Supreme Court vacancies filled in an election year. If he violates it, when Democrats control the Senate in the next Congress, we must abolish the filibuster and expand the Supreme Court.”
Obama praises Ginsburg as ‘a warrior for gender equality.’
Former President Barack Obama on Friday called Justice Ginsburg “a warrior for gender equality” who helped Americans see the perils of gender discrimination.
As a litigator and later a jurist, “Justice Ginsburg helped us see that discrimination on the basis of sex isn’t about an abstract ideal of equality; that it doesn’t only harm women; that it has real consequences for all of us,” Mr. Obama said in a statement issued just before midnight and later . “It’s about who we are — and who we can be.”
Mr. Obama said Justice Ginsburg had “inspired the generations who followed her, from the tiniest trick-or-treaters to law students burning the midnight oil to the most powerful leaders in the land.” The first group was an apparent reference to children who dressed up in “R.B.G.” costumes for Halloween.
Mr. Obama also weighed in on the contentious issue of when Justice Ginsburg’s successor should be nominated to the Supreme Court.
“A basic principle of the law — and of everyday fairness — is that we apply rules with consistency, and not based on what’s convenient or advantageous in the moment,” Mr. Obama, whose own nominee for the court, Judge Merrick B. Garland, was blocked by Senate Republicans, said in the statement.
”The rule of law, the legitimacy of our courts, the fundamental workings of our democracy all depend on that basic principle,” Mr. Obama added. “As votes are already being cast in this election, Republican senators are now called to apply that standard.”
Former President Bill Clinton, who nominated Justice Ginsburg to the Supreme Court in 1993, praised her on Friday as “one of the most extraordinary justices ever to serve on the Supreme Court.”
“Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life and landmark opinions moved us closer to a more perfect union,” Mr. Clinton wrote on Twitter. “And her powerful dissents reminded us that we walk away from our Constitution’s promise at our peril.”
During Mr. Obama’s second term, Justice Ginsburg shrugged off a chorus of calls for her to retire in order to give a Democratic president the chance to name her replacement.
She planned to stay “as long as I can do the job full steam,” she would say, sometimes adding, “There will be a president after this one, and I’m hopeful that that president will be a fine president.”
Reporting was contributed by Maggie Astor, Peter Baker, Reid J. Epstein, Jacey Fortin, Maggie Haberman, Carl Hulse, Mike Ives, Thomas Kaplan, Adam Liptak, Jonathan Martin, Patricia Mazzei, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Benjamin Mueller, Zachary Montague and Glenn Thrush.