“What is the difference between a bookkeeper in the Garment District and a Supreme Court justice?” Ruth Bader Ginsburg would ask, pausing before answering, “One generation.”
Ginsburg, 87, died Friday from complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer — one of five bouts with cancer she endured during the last two decades of her extraordinary life.
Nominated to the court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, she was a standard-bearer for women’s rights and the second woman to be named to the court — and, in her later years, a pop culture icon.
Her death just six weeks before the Nov. 3 election will launch a high-stakes push by President Donald Trump and the Republican-majority Senate to nominate and confirm her successor in the face of fierce opposition from Democrats.
Just days before her death, National Public Radio reported, Ginsburg dictated the following statement to her granddaughter: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
Her plea won’t matter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or to Trump, who recently listed Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton and other potential candidates for any court vacancies under his watch.
McConnell wasted no time, issuing a statement Friday evening saying that Trump’s nominee would receive a vote on the Senate floor. Yes, that’s the same Mitch McConnell who sat on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland after Justice Antonin Scalia died in an election year.
The bitter fight over that plan will unfold in the weeks ahead. Before it heats up, Americans should pause to reflect on a life that could only have been lived in America.
“Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in a 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.”
Ginsburg rose from middle-class roots in Brooklyn, N.Y., to graduate at the top of her Columbia University law school class in 1959. Law firm jobs were elusive because, as she put it in 2007, she had “three strikes against her” — for being Jewish, female and a mother.
But she overcame those obstacles to become a champion for women and minorities — and an inspiration to her admirers for her resilience in the face of cancer and her passionate dissents, earning the nickname “Notorious RBG.”