By Rahem Hamid – Senior Political Correspondent
Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in the late evening of September 18, 2020 succumbing to a years-long battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 87 years old. Her death throws another wrench into the works of an already tumultuous election. The court had a 5-4 conservative majority, but with President Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett and Mitch McConnell’s willingness to confirm a new nominee in an election year, that number will likely change to 6-3.
Justice Ginsburg was the court’s liberal bastion, and she was as much of a trailblazer on the court as she was off. As one of a handful of women accepted into Harvard Law School, Justice Ginsburg served on the Harvard Law Review. She later transferred to Columbia Law School, where she was on the Columbia Law Review and graduated first in her class.
Nominated by President Carter for the US Court of Appeals in the DC Circuit, Justice Ginsburg was on the court for 13 years before President Clinton nominated her for the Supreme Court to fill the seat of retiring Justice Byron White. She was confirmed 96-3, just the seventh justice since the introduction of Alaska and Hawai’i to receive more than 90 votes in the Senate.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg cemented her place in history because she broke barriers. After the retirement of Justice O’Connor, Ginsburg was the only female justice on the high court, causing her popularity to rise nationwide. Whenever there seemed to be a lapse in her health, people across the country would pray for her– and she beat back cancer four out of five times.
Her passionate dissents and her articulate majority opinions spoke, as so much of her life did, to her intellectual brilliance. She authored the majority opinion in United States v. Virginia, which struck down the males-only admissions process at the Virginia Military Institute, and authored several other majority and dissent opinions on matters of gender discrimination and abortion rights.
Her friendship with Justice Scalia, who passed away in 2016, is also worth noting. Scalia was to the conservative wing of the court what Ginsburg was to the liberal wing – bastions and perhaps the most brilliant jurists of their generation. But despite their incredible ideological differences, the two were great friends, with their families dining together frequently. NPR reported that Ginsburg wrote that the two were “best buddies” after Scalia’s death. The fact that both were confirmed either unanimously (Scalia was confirmed 98-0) or very close to unanimously symbolizes a bygone era – a time when United States senators voted for justices not based on their political views, but for their brilliance. If the Democrats’ actions during the confirmation of Justice Gorsuch and the Republicans’ refusal to consider Merrick Garland serve any indication as to where this court is headed, the American judicial system may be plagued by a dark cloud of politicization. Justice Kavanaugh’s nomination was plagued by woefully under-investigated allegations of sexual assault, so the actions by Democratic senators were appropriate. But Justice Gorsuch is a figure who had no real disqualifications, and Justice Garland was an eminently qualified jurist worthy of nomination and confirmation to the Supreme Court. Senators must look to the friendship of Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the nomination processes they went through, to plot the judicial future of our country.
So, it is fitting that, even after her passing, she broke the glass ceiling one more time. On September 25, 2020, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the first woman and the first Jew to lie in state in the US Capitol building. There could not be a more honorable and more fitting tribute for a justice who earned the respect of not just her fellow jurists, but of politicians and the American public.