US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an iconic champion of women’s rights, has died of cancer at the age of 87, the court has said.
Ginsburg died on Friday of metastatic pancreatic cancer at her home in Washington, DC, surrounded by her family.
Earlier this year, Ginsburg said she was undergoing chemotherapy for a recurrence of cancer.
She was a prominent feminist who became a figurehead for liberals in the US.
Ginsburg was the oldest justice and the second-ever woman to sit on the Supreme Court, where she served for 27 years.
As one of four liberal justices on the court, her health was watched closely. Ginsburg’s death raises the prospect of Republican US President Donald Trump trying to expand its slender conservative majority, even before this November’s election.
In the days before her death, Ginsburg expressed her strong disapproval of such a move. “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” she wrote in a statement to her granddaughter, according to National Public Radio.
White House sources however said President Trump is expected to nominate a conservative replacement for Ginsburg as soon as possible.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a passionate champion of women’s rights, was the oldest judge on the US Supreme Court
Later on, Trump said Ginsburg was a “titan of the law” and a “brilliant mind” in a tweeted statement.
Ginsburg had suffered from five bouts of cancer, with the most recent recurrence in early 2020.
She had received hospital treatment a number of times in recent years but returned swiftly to work on each occasion.
US Supreme Court justices serve for life or until they choose to retire, and supporters had expressed concern that a more conservative justice could succeed Ginsburg.
The highest court in the US is often the final word on highly contentious laws, disputes between states and the federal government, and final appeals to stay executions.
In recent years, the court has expanded gay marriage to all 50 states, allowed for President Trump’s travel ban to be put in place, and delayed a US plan to cut carbon emissions while appeals went forward.
Ginsburg’s death will spark a political battle over who will succeed her, spurring debate about the future of the Supreme Court ahead of November’s presidential election.
President Trump has appointed two judges since taking office, and the current court is seen to have a 5-4 conservative majority in most cases.
The US Senate has to approve a new judge nominated by the president, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said on Friday evening that if a nominee was put forward before the election, there would be a vote on Trump’s choice.
But the Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden said: “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.”
Ginsburg’s death injects a level of unpredictability into a presidential race that had been remarkably stable for months. Now, not only will the White House be at stake in November, but the ideological balance of the Supreme Court could be, as well.
It all depends on what President Trump and the Republicans choose to do next.
They could try to fill the seat before the end of the year regardless of who wins the presidency in November, replacing a liberal icon with what in all likelihood will be a reliable conservative vote.
Or they could wait and hold the seat vacant, a prize to encourage conservative voters – particularly evangelicals who see an opportunity to roll back abortion rights – to flock to the polls for the president.
Filling the seat would outrage Democrats, who will note that Republicans denied former President Barack Obama the chance to fill the vacant seat in 2016 for months.
Waiting, on the other hand, would risk letting Biden name Ginsburg’s replacement in 2021.
All signs point to Republicans trying the former.
Concerns of hypocrisy will melt away when a lifetime appointment to the court is in play.
Either way, it sets up a brutal, high-stakes political fight that comes at a time when the nation is already rife with partisan discord and psychological distress.