Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court and longtime legal champion of gender equality, has died. She was 87.
The Supreme Court of the United States announced Ginsburg’s death in a statement on Friday: “Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died this evening surrounded by her family at her home in Washington, D.C., due to complications of metastatic pancreas cancer.”
Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993.
“Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature,” said Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in the statement. “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.”
According to NPR, Ginsburg told her granddaughter Clara Spera days before her death, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
Ginsburg was still serving on the court despite a recent announcement that her cancer had returned and she was receiving chemotherapy. She had battled cancer previously, including a 1999 surgery for colorectal cancer and 2009 treatments for pancreatic cancer.
Ginsburg was a feminist icon, a lifelong advocate for women’s rights. As a lawyer, Ginsburg helped lead the charge for gender equity, fighting to overturn laws that permitted women to be treated differently from men and barred them from holding certain jobs. She was central in launching the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union and served as the ACLU’s general counsel from 1973 to 1980.
That carried over into her rulings as a judge, most notably a 1996 Supreme Court ruling where she wrote the court’s 7-to-1 opinion declaring that the Virginia Military Institute could not remain an all-male institution.
In her later years, Ginsburg became a pop culture phenomenon, an icon dubbed the Notorious RBG. Her feisty personality inspired everything from memes to Kate McKinnon’s portrayal of the justice on Saturday Night Live. Ginsburg was also portrayed on screen by Felicity Jones in Mimi Leder’s On the Basis of Sex in 2018, a film focused on Ginsburg’s early life and career.
In 2016, she authored In My Own Words, a compilation of her speeches and writing. Ginsburg was also the subject of an Oscar-nominated 2018 documentary, RBG, chronicling decades of her career.
“The more women who are out there doing things, the better off all of us will be for it,” Ginsburg said at the film’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. “That’s something that my dear colleague Sandra Day O’Connor often said: The more women who are out there doing things, the more young women will have the courage to go on. And I am heartened by the number of women who will be in races for our Congress and governorships and state legislative positions. It was a favorite expression of Martin Luther King Jr.: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.'”
Justice Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on March 15, 1933. She met her husband, Martin D. Ginsburg, while pursuing her bachelor’s degree at Cornell University. Later, the two started classes at Harvard Law School. She was one of only nine women in a class of approximately 500 men.
Ginsburg not only looked after their first child, Jane, who was born in 1955, while tending to her studies, but attended class and took notes for both her and her husband when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. She was named to the Harvard Law Review, but when her husband moved to New York for work, she transferred to Columbia for her final year of law school.
She served as a law clerk to the Honorable Edmund L. Palmieri, Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York from 1959 to 1961. From 1961 to 1963, she was a research associate and then associate director of the Columbia Law School Project on International Procedure.
Unable to find higher-level work at a law firm because of her sex, Ginsburg became a law professor at Rutgers University from 1963 to 1972. She transferred to Columbia Law School in 1972, becoming the first woman to receive tenure and co-founding the first law journal in the United States devoted to issues of gender equality, The Women’s Rights Law Reporter.
Her first cases before the United States Supreme Court came during her tenure at the ACLU where sex discrimination complaints were referred to her. As depicted in On the Basis of Sex, one of Ginsburg’s most prominent early cases was Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, wherein she successfully argued a man was denied a tax deduction for caring for a disabled relative because of his gender.
She was sworn into the Supreme Court on Aug. 10, 1993, the second female justice after Sandra Day O’Connor. From 2006 to 2009, following O’Connor’s retirement, she was the only female justice on the Supreme Court.
In addition to the numerous cases she argued for, Ginsburg’s dissents were equally noteworthy. She dissented in 2000 in the case of Bush v. Gore, deciding the presidential election; in 2007’s Gonzales v. Carhart, which upheld a Partial-Birth Abortion Act of 2002; and blasted the court’s 2013 majority decision to gut the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder.
“I’d like to see this Court do the job that it has been doing for now well over 200 years, to do it in a way that’s faithful to the Constitution that I believe was made to govern us through the ages, for one generation to the next,” she said at Sundance in 2018. “So the idea of a Constitution that is still being perfected, that is ever more inclusive… It is a tremendous honor that I have this job, and a huge responsibility.”
Ginsburg is survived by her daughter, Jane, and son, James.