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Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U.S. Supreme Court justice, dies at 87

Nominated in 1993 by former President Bill Clinton, the liberal justice was the legal force behind much of the successes of the women’s movement. In her later years, she became something of a cult figure in legal and feminist circles.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the high court, died Friday due to complications from cancer.

Nominated in 1993 by former President Bill Clinton, the liberal justice was the legal force behind many of the successes of the women’s movement and a cult figure in feminist circles.

Legal watchers have long argued that a Ginsburg vacancy on the Supreme Court would precipitate one of the nastiest fights on Capitol Hill in decades.

In 2016, Senate Republicans — including U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas — refused to confirm President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Ginsburg’s close friend Justice Antonin Scalia. Scalia died months before that year’s presidential election.

“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been a titan of the Supreme Court for more than a quarter of a century,” Cornyn said in a statement Friday. “Despite our ideological differences, I have always maintained a deep respect for Justice Ginsburg. Her unwavering commitment to public service has inspired a generation of young Americans — particularly women — to reach for their dreams.”

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has argued earlier this year that the stated logic of 2016 opposition to replacing a justice in an election year — “the American people should have a say in the court’s direction” so close to a presidential election — would not apply in his mind if a new vacancy occurred.

On Friday night, Cornyn retweeted a report of a fresh McConnell statement: “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

The coming battle could result in a significant conservative majority on the country’s highest court. The fight could also overtake the presidential campaign and Senate races across the country, including Cornyn’s bid for a fourth term this November.

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg leaves behind an incredible legacy of standing up for equality and justice,” Cornyn’s Democratic opponent in November, veteran MJ Hegar, said in a statement. “For decades she worked on the frontlines to secure and uphold the rights of women, workers, and those often left behind. My thoughts are with her family, friends, and the millions of women and Americans she fought for. Today we mourn her loss and tomorrow we commit to honoring her legacy by continuing her work.”

In a joint statement, the leaders of the Texas Democratic Party said that “few did more” than Ginsburg in advancing women’s rights.

“Throughout her tenure on the bench, Justice Ginsburg made us believe that a more equitable future was possible,” said Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa and Vice Chair Carla Brailey. “Now, it is up to us to carry on her legacy. We can finish the fight she started. Our thoughts are with the Ginsburg family. Rest in power.”

Trump released a list of potential nominees to the court earlier this month. It included Cruz, who later said he didn’t want to be appointed. James Ho, a Texan who serves on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was also on the list.

Ginsburg’s death may also have major implications for a Texas-led lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act, set for oral argument Nov. 10. The justice had been on the side of the majority several times when the high court upheld the law against past challenges. Supporters of Obama’s landmark health law had pinned their hopes on Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court’s four liberal members to uphold it again.

Texas leads a coalition of Republican states arguing that the entire ACA must fall after federal courts have declared the individual mandate — one of its critical provisions — unconstitutional. While many legal scholars are skeptical of Texas’ argument, it has won some favor among conservative-leaning federal judges in Texas and at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In Ginsburg’s final years, young people on the internet took an ironic play on her persona, characterizing her as “the Notorious RBG.” A likeness of her surfaced on the internet featuring her wearing her judicial garb and a crooked crown. That persona became the subject of a documentary, a film, frequent “Saturday Night Live” skits, Halloween costumes and even tattoos.

“She dedicated many of her 87 remarkable years to the pursuit of justice and equality, and she inspired more than one generation of women and girls,” former President George W. Bush, a Texan, said in a statement late Friday.

Juan Pablo Garnham contributed to this story.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Abby Livingston joined the Tribune in 2014 as the publication's first Washington Bureau Chief. In this role, she won the 2017 National Press Club Award for Washington Regional Reporting. Previously, she covered political campaigns, House leadership and Congress for Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper. A seventh-generation Texan, Abby graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. She grew up in Fort Worth and has appeared in an episode of "The Bold and The Beautiful." Abby pitched and produced political segments for CNN and worked as an editor for The Hotline, National Journal’s campaign tipsheet. Abby began her journalism career as a desk assistant at NBC News in Washington, working her way up to the political unit, where she researched stories for Nightly News, the Today Show and Meet the Press. In keeping with the Trib’s great history of hiring softball stars, Abby is a three-time MVP (the most in game history —Ed.) for The Bad News Babes, the women’s press softball team that takes on female members of Congress in the annual Congressional Women’s Softball breast cancer charity game.

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october 2020

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