US supreme court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies aged 87

Judge’s death raises possibility of third Trump nominee to US supreme court

US president Donald Trump paid tribute to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who died at the age of 87.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – an icon of the American legal world – died on Friday at the age of 87.

Ms Ginsburg, who was only the second woman to be appointed to the highest court in the United States, was nominated by US president Bill Clinton in 1993 and served for 27 years on the nine-member court.

Born in 1933 in Brooklyn, New York, she studied at Cornell University and later at Harvard Law School, before building a stellar legal career. She argued six landmark cases on gender equality before the US Supreme Court and was a champion of women’s rights, particularly in the work place.

She died surrounded by her family in Washington DC on Friday due to complications from pancreatic cancer, the Supreme Court announced.


Her death occurs a little more than six weeks before November's presidential election, and is likely to lead to a bitter battle in Washington over whether President Donald Trump will nominate a replacement.

Mr Trump has already nominated two conservative Supreme Court justices to the bench – Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanuagh – in just over three and a half years in the White House.


The Senate, which must approve the nomination, could consider a new nominee before November’s election or during the so-called “lame duck” session between the November 3rd election and the swearing-in of the new Congress in January.

However, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell controversially refused to consider former US president Barack Obama’s nominee for the court, Merrick Garland, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016.

He argued at the time that the decision should be made after the 2016 election.

“The American people should have a say in the court’s direction. It is a president’s constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court justice, and it is the Senate’s constitutional right to act as a check on the president and withhold its consent,” he said in 2016.

But in a statement last night, Mr Mc Connell noted that this time the same party is in power in the Senate and the White House.

“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,” he said. “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

In a sign of the battle ahead, however, Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, tweeted:

“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.”


A simple majority is needed to approve a Supreme Court nominee. Republicans currently control 53 seats in the 100-member chamber, while the vice-president has the authority to cast a tie-breaking vote. However, polls show that Democrats may win control of the chamber in November’s election, when a third of the Senate seats are on the ballot.

Should a nomination be put to a vote in the current congressional session, it is not guaranteed that all 53 Republicans would endorse a Trump appointment. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has suggested that she would not confirm a nominee in an election year, while questions also remain about how senators Mitt Romney and Susan Collins would vote.

According to NPR, Ms Bader Ginsburg told her granddaughter in the days before her death: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

The Trump administration, supported by a Republican-majority in the Senate, has pushed through a record number of federal judges since the election of Mr Trump in 2016. More than 215 judges have already been approved by the Senate, with the president predicting this month that this number will have increased to 300 by the end of this year.

Just ten days ago, Mr Trump unveiled a new list of potential Supreme Court nominees who he could select if re-elected in November, including current senators Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton. Announcing the list at the White House on September 9th, Mr Trump warned that “radical justices” would “erase the Second Amendment, silence political speech, and require taxpayers to fund extreme late-term abortion. They will give unelected bureaucrats that power to destroy millions of American jobs. “


With the death of Ms Ginsburg, the nine-member court has lost one of its most liberal voices. Five Republican-nominated justices now remain on the bench, and three liberal justices.

Ms Ginsburg, who had suffered with several bouts of cancer, participated in a range of oral arguments and judgments right up to her death. Most recently, she was treated in hospital in Baltimore in August.

Announcing the death of Ms Bader Ginsburg, chief justice John Roberts said:

“Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature. 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.”

Mr Trump was apparently informed of Ms Ginsburg’s death by reporters as he boarded Air Force One shortly after finishing a rally in Minnesota.

“She just died? I didn’t know that. She led an amazing life, what else can you say?,” he said.

“Whether you agree or not ... she led an amazing life.”

His presidential rival, Joe Biden, said: “Tonight, and in the coming days, we should be focused on the loss of Justice Ginsburg and her enduring legacy. But just so there is no doubt, let me be clear – the voters should pick a president, and that president should select a successor to Justice Ginsburg. This was the position that the Republican Senate took in 2016, when there were nearly nine months before the election. That is the position the United States Senate must take now, when the election is less than two months away.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who recommended Ruth Bader Ginsburg to her husband when he was considering nominees for the Supreme Court in 1993, said it was a very sad night for America.

“She was a historic, courageous person who moved our country forward in all the right ways,” she said last night.

Ms Bader Ginsburg will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery, just outside Washington DC in a private ceremony.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent