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Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Reaction And Coverage

Ongoing coverage and reaction to the Supreme Court justice's death.
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Mourners gather during a vigil for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Friday. Tyrone Turner/WAMU hide caption

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Tyrone Turner/WAMU

The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a major cultural moment and has potential implications for the next generation of American society.

Just look at the images of people who crowded the Supreme Court's steps Friday night after news of her death broke.

The Supreme Court hasn't been this conservative in three-quarters of a century, and if President Trump nominates a replacement for her seat, and he or she is confirmed, it would move the court even further to the right and be difficult for liberals to take control of for a very long time.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is vowing to bring a Trump nominee to the Senate floor for a vote — despite his denial of even a hearing for then-President Barack Obama's 2016 Supreme Court nominee, with far more time to go until the election.

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People lit candles and left flowers and notes on the steps of the court. Tyrone Turner/WAMU hide caption

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Tyrone Turner/WAMU

It's unclear when that vote would take place — either before the election or during a lame-duck session. And it's not clear if Republicans would have the votes to pass a nominee. It would almost certainly be close.

It's also not clear how — or if — this reshapes the calculus in any way for the 2020 election. It could fire up the GOP base, which cares a great deal about the court. And it could fire up Democrats, especially women, to go to the polls for Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

But little has moved the needle in this election one way or the other, and those groups were already enthusiastic about voting.

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A woman, mourning the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, holds a sign at the Supreme Court that reads, "when there are nine," something Ginsburg said to describe when there'd be enough women on the court. Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

So no one really knows how any of this is going to play out except to say that there is going to be some kind of fight over this seat.

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President Barack Obama greets Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg prior to his State of the Union address on Jan. 24, 2012, at the Capitol in Washington. Ginsburg died on Sep 18, 2020 at 87. SAUL LOEB/AP hide caption

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SAUL LOEB/AP

Former President Barack Obama paid tribute to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Friday, calling on Republicans to delay filling the vacancy left by her death until after the 2020 presidential election.

Ginsburg died from cancer complications earlier on Friday. She was 87.

In his statement, Obama called Ginsburg a "warrior for gender equality" who "inspired the generations who followed her, from the tiniest trick-or-treaters to law students burning the midnight oil to the most powerful leaders in the land."

Regarding the task of filling her Supreme Court seat, he asked Republicans to "apply rules with consistency, and not based on what's convenient or advantageous in the moment," referring to the precedent set when the Senate would not hold a hearing on his nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016 following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

"Four and a half years ago, when Republicans refused to hold a hearing or an up-or-down vote on Merrick Garland, they invented the principle that the Senate shouldn't fill an open seat on the Supreme Court before a new president was sworn in," he said. "As votes are already being cast in this election, Republican Senators are now called to apply that standard," Obama added.

The former president also referenced Ginsburg's "instructions for how she wanted her legacy to be honored." Before her death, she told her grandaughter, Clara Spera, that her "most fervent wish" was that she would not be replaced "until a new president is installed.

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday at the age of 87. Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Berggruen Insti hide caption

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Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Berggruen Insti

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the feminist Supreme Court justice who inspired generations of women, died on Friday at the age of 87.

Throughout her career, Ginsburg granted a number of interviews to NPR. Explore some of her recent, more memorable remarks.

On retiring:

The octogenarian served 27 years on the bench over four presidencies, five bouts with cancer, and countless opinions on groundbreaking legal decisions.

In 2016, amid a heated election between Democrat Hillary Clinton, and eventual White House winner, Donald Trump, Ginsburg said she had no plans on retiring until she could no longer "do the job full-steam."

Listen here.

On health:

In 2019, while battling pancreatic cancer, Ginsburg sat with NPR's Nina Totenberg to discuss her health.

"My first two cancer bouts ... Marty [her husband] stayed with me-- stayed with me in the hospital, sleeping on an uncomfortable couch, despite his bad back. And I knew that someone was there who really cared about me and would make sure that things didn't go wrong," she said at the time.

Ginsburg's husband, Martin "Marty" Ginsburg, died of cancer in 2010.

Listen here.

On regret:

Ginsburg, the soft-spoken, outspoken Supreme Court justice, had more than two decades on the court and more than eight-and-a-half decades of life to ponder the nature of regret.

Still, in an interview last year, Ginsburg found herself feeling fortunate and relatively unburdened by longing for moments past.

"I do think that I was born under a very bright star," Ginsburg said then.

"When you think about — the world has changed really in what women are doing. I went to law school when women were less than 3% of lawyers in the country; today, they are 50%. I never had a woman teacher in college or in law school. The changes have been enormous. And they've just — they've gone much too far [to be] going back."

Read more here.

On love:

Reading a letter from her late husband, Ginsburg gave listeners a glimpse into the couple's love story that spanned more than half a century.

"I found this letter in the drawer next to Marty's bed in the hospital. And it reads: 'My dearest Ruth, you are the only person I have loved in my life, setting aside a bit parents, and kids, and their kids. And I have admired and loved you almost since the day we first met at Cornell some 56 years ago.'"

Listen to Ginsburg read the letter in her own voice here.

"On the Basis of Sex":

Towards the end of her life, Ginsburg, known affectionately by fans as RBG, grew into a pop culture icon and fascination around her life spawned the biographical film On the Basis of Sex, starring Felicity Jones.

The 2018 film follows Ginsburg's time as a young professor focusing on sex discrimination law.

Listen to more about the film here.

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President Trump reacts to the news of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death on Friday at Bemidji Regional Airport in Minnesota. He told reporters on the tarmac after his rally that he learned the news from them. Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Updated at 10:56 p.m. ET

President Trump called Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg a "titan of the law" in a statement late Friday night on her death.

"Renowned for her brilliant mind and her powerful dissents at the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg demonstrated that one can disagree without being disagreeable toward one's colleagues or different points of view," the statement said.

Statement from the President on the Passing of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pic.twitter.com/N2YkGVWLoF

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 19, 2020

The White House has also lowered its flag to half-staff.

The news of Ginsburg's death broke about 10 minutes after Trump launched into a campaign speech before a large crowd at an airport hangar in Bemidji, Minn.

Trump continued on, for more than an hour, before returning to Air Force One, where reporters were waiting. As Elton John's Tiny Dancer played from the nearby stage, a reporter broke the news.

"She just died?" Trump said. "I didn't know that, you're telling me now for the first time," he told a reporter.

"She led an amazing life, what else can you say? She was an amazing woman — whether you agreed or not — she was an amazing woman who led an amazing life," he said.

"I am sad to hear that," he said before boarding the plane to return to Washington, D.C.

The flag is at half-staff here at the White House in honor of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a trailblazer for women. pic.twitter.com/AFiMSoKfXI

— Kayleigh McEnany (@PressSec) September 19, 2020
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Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to reporters about the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg upon arrival at New Castle County Airport in Delaware. Drew Angerer/Getty Images hide caption

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Updated at 12:15 a.m. ET

The Senate shouldn't take up the vacancy on the Supreme Court opened by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg until after voters have expressed their choice in the election, former Vice President Joe Biden said Friday.

The Democratic presidential hopeful kept in lockstep with his colleagues now in the Senate minority, who wasted little time after the announcement of Ginsburg's death in stating their belief that Washington must wait.

Republicans do not agree.

Biden reflected Friday about his own long career in the Senate: "It's hard to believe it was my honor to preside over her confirmation hearing," he said.

Democrats want to mirror back the political position taken in 2016 by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who responded to that year's vacancy on the high court by declaring that he would not take up the matter of a replacement until after the presidential election.

History records that Donald Trump was elected and sent McConnell his nominee in place of the one chosen by President Obama. The Senate then confirmed Neil Gorsuch, the first of Trump's choices.

McConnell said on Friday that he considers the situation this year different from the one in 2016 and that the Senate would consider Trump's third nominee comparatively soon. It isn't clear whether that might take place before Election Day or Inauguration Day, but the stage in Washington is set for an incendiary political war.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas — whom Trump had mused about potentially being a nominee himself to the Supreme Court — said on TV Friday that he believed Trump should identify his nominee as soon as next week.

Former President Obama echoed Biden's position a bit more forcefully in a post, writing:

"When Republicans refused to hold a hearing or an up-or-down vote on Merrick Garland, they invented the principle that the Senate shouldn't fill an open seat on the Supreme Court before a new president was sworn in.

A basic principle of the law — and of everyday fairness — is that we apply rules with consistency, and not based on what's convenient or advantageous in the moment."

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President Donald Trump announced his list of potential Supreme Court nominees in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on September 9, 2020. Pool/Getty Images hide caption

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Pool/Getty Images

President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., already had remade the federal judiciary before the hinge of fate swung again on Friday night.

The Republican-controlled Senate has confirmed no fewer than 200 federal judges, many of them young, and each to a lifelong term, as NPR's Carrie Johnson has reported.

Two of those jurists included Supreme Court justices — Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — and the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg now means that Trump can nominate a third. McConnell said on Friday night he intends to convene a vote on that nominee in the Senate, potentially before Election Day or Inauguration Day in January.

Conservative legal activists couldn't be happier about McConnell's project, which not only stocks lower-level federal courts with judges they believe will interpret the law in a way they support, but also creates a vast pool from which Trump now could select for a Supreme Court nominee.

"Filling all of these circuit seats is an unmitigated success, no downside to that," Carrie Severino, who leads the Judicial Crisis Network, told NPR's Johnson.

Here's a breakdown from last summer about the judges Trump has nominated and McConnell has led to confirmation in the Senate.

The corps of judges now in place means conservatives hope for a body of rulings that match their perspectives on key issues, including on reproductive rights, environmental issues, voting cases and more. Plus the comparatively young age of the population of judges — some in their 30s and 40s — mean they'll be on the bench for decades.

Democrats accuse McConnell of a cynical scheme: he blocked judicial nominees under President Obama to create a surplus of vacancies, which he then was able to fill with the arrival of a Republican president.

Other critics also noted to NPR's Johnson how mostly male and mostly white were the judges of the Trump-McConnell era.

Vanita Gupta, who runs the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said this of the cadre: "It is an astonishing lack of representation."

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Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to reporters before boarding his campaign plane at Duluth International Airport on September 18, 2020 in Duluth, Minn. Drew Angerer/Getty Images hide caption

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Trump has revealed the names of people he'd consider nominating to the Supreme Court in the event of a vacancy like the one opened by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump's Democratic challenger, hasn't.

Some critics were faulting Biden's reticence as recently as Thursday, as the Associated Press reported, and the matter has become newly urgent for Democrats as they go to war to try to stop Senate action on the high court.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and other members in the minority hope that they can defer action now, Biden will be elected, that they'll secure a Senate majority and then — and only then — they could move ahead to fill the Ginsburg vacancy.

Democrats would need persuade a number of Republican senators, some of whom are facing reelection themselves, to go along with this plan.

That would be difficult, and as some Democrats told the AP this week before Ginsburg's death, the putative identities of a Biden nominee likely wouldn't make that big a difference to party loyalists.

Biden acolyte Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., for example, told the wire service that he believed the faithful could trust Biden enough to put him into position for when the right time came without the bona fides that Coons suggested Trump had to secure with sometimes nervous conservatives.

"He doesn't need to issue some lists in order for Democrats to be comfortable that they know his values and his priorities," Coons told the AP, arguing that Americans could expect a potential Biden administration to select "highly qualified, mainstream jurists."

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday at the age of 87. Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images hide caption

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Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

Reactions to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death Friday focused, in large part, on how the court vacancy should be filled and whether President Trump, who is up for re-election on Nov. 3, could justifiably seek to appoint a new justice to the court so close to the election.

"The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president," Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer wrote on Twitter.

The quote is a direct callback to a remark made by his Republican counterpart on the Senate, Mitch McConnell, who famously blocked the nomination of Merrick Garland to the court, following the unexpected death of the late-Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016.

McConnell on Friday evening said the nation mourned the "conclusion of [Ginsburg's] extraordinary American life." But the controversial Republican concluded his statement saying: "President Trump's nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate."

Ginsburg, a champion for women's rights and social justice, died from complications from cancer on Friday at age 87, the Supreme Court court announced. It was her fifth bout with the disease that was also responsible for the death of her mother.

Shortly before her death, in a statement dictated to her granddaughter, the liberal firebrand said:

"My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new President is installed."

Many remembered Ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the nation's highest court, as a paragon of integrity and legal skill.

"The loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is devastating," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. "Justice Ginsberg embodied justice, brilliance and goodness, and her passing is an incalculable loss for our democracy and for all who sacrifice and strive to build a better future for our children."

She added, "We must honor Justice Ginsburg's trailblazing career and safeguard her powerful legacy by ensuring that the next Associate Justice of the Supreme Court upholds her commitment to equality, opportunity and justice for all."

Justice Ginsburg paved the way for so many women, including me. There will never be another like her. Thank you RBG.

— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 19, 2020

Tonight, we mourn the passing of a giant in American history, a champion for justice, a trailblazer for women.

She would want us all to fight as hard as we can to preserve her legacy.

— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) September 18, 2020

I extend my condolences to the family of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for their loss. She dedicated her life to public service, and now she is at peace.

— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) September 19, 2020

My thoughts and prayers are with the family of Ruth Bader Ginsburg tonight. She leaves a legacy of thoughtful public service, a dedication to the law, and a life of great accomplishment. May she Rest In Peace.

— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) September 19, 2020
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arrives for a Republican Senate luncheon Wednesday on Capitol Hill. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Senate will vote on President Trump's nominee to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday of complications from cancer.

McConnell released a statement expressing condolences for Ginsburg and followed with a pledge to continue consideration of Trump's judicial nominees.

"Americans reelected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018 because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary. Once again, we will keep our promise," McConnell said. "President Trump's nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate."

As majority leader. McConnell has overseen a vast remaking of the federal judiciary, approving more than 200 federal judges nominated by Trump.

In 2016, McConnell blocked the consideration of President Barack Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court after Justice Antonin Scalia died in February of that year. At the time, McConnell argued that the court vacancy should be decided by voters in the 2016 election.

"The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice," McConnell said in a statement released on Feb. 13, 2016. "Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President."

Several key members of the Senate said before, when asked in a hypothetical context, that they would not support confirming a new Supreme Court justice in the few weeks that remain before Election Day.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would preside over confirmation hearings, said in 2018 that he'd oppose such proceedings if they took place in the final months of Trump's first term.

Then, this spring, Graham said he'd support going ahead, because he considers the circumstances different.

However, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who invariably plays the role of the moderate decider in so many Senate dramas, toldThe New York Times earlier this month that she opposed a Supreme Court confirmation process in October.

Another important swing vote, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told Alaska Public Media on Friday, as it was being discussed as a hypothetical scenario, that she wouldn't support confirming a new justice until after the presidential election.

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol building is seen behind a row of U.S. flags. Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is gone, but those who remain in Washington are gearing up for a political battle royale.

The stakes of a vacancy on the High Court are as high as they've ever been following two appointments under President Trump that have increased conservatives' throw weight on big cases.

Ginsburg herself was aware about the coming tempest; she dictated this statement to granddaughter Clara Spera in the days before her death: "My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed."

Translation: Ginsburg, a widely venerated judicial lion to political liberals, wants the 2020 election to play itself out before the Senate takes up the matter of her replacement.

That would mean the winner of November's election might nominate a new justice and, potentially, the Senate that could consider that nomination also might reflect the results of the election.

Democrats everywhere carry the bitter memory of an earlier Supreme Court vacancy in 2016, when President Obama named Judge Merrick Garland, chief of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., did not convene a confirmation process for Garland, arguing that voters must have their say in that year's election. Ultimately, they elected Trump, who then sent the Senate his own nomination: Neil Gorsuch — whom Republicans under McConnell then confirmed. Friday night, though, he said President Trump's nominee to fill the vacancy would receive a vote on the Senate floor.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., issued a statement on Friday night that copied McConnell's earlier position word-for-word:

"The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president."

The question now is how persuasive Schumer and his colleagues can be in reading McConnell's own words back to him — and how much resolve Republicans show in acting as quickly as they can to try to confirm a new replacement while Trump is still in office.

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