(CNBC) — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died, the Supreme Court said Friday.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the pioneering Supreme Court justice who became the second female on the nation’s highest court, the leader of its liberal wing and a pop culture icon known as Notorious R.B.G.
The vacancy enables President Donald Trump to nominate his third justice to swing the bench further to the right, setting up what’s certain to be a colossal battle perhaps even bigger than those of his nominations of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
Ginsburg had a history of medical problems. In December 2018, doctors removed two cancerous nodules from her left lung, and she underwent additional treatment in August 2019 for a tumor on her pancreas. She was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1999 and underwent surgery in 2009 for pancreatic cancer.
The nodules in her lung were discovered in November 2018, when she was hospitalized for broken ribs following a fall in her office. Ginsburg’s convalescence 2½ weeks after the lung surgery ended her 25-year streak of never missing hearing a Supreme Court case for any reason outside of recusal, but she continued to work from home in her Watergate apartment.
In her second day back on the bench, she read the opinion she had written in a unanimous ruling against excessive punishment.
“I think my work is what saved me because instead of dwelling on my physical discomforts if I have an opinion to write or a brief to read, I know I’ve just got to get it done so I have to get over it,” she told NPR’s Nina Totenberg in a September 2019 interview at an event hosted by the Clinton Foundation and the University of Arkansas’ Clinton School of Public Service.
In another interview with Totenberg two months later, she defended herself from criticism that she should have retired while President Barack Obama was in office. “When that suggestion is made, I ask the question: Who do you think the president could nominate that could get through the Republican Senate? Who you would prefer on the court than me?”
The subject of two major movies in 2018 and an animated cameo appearance in a 2019 Lego movie, Ginsburg battled for the equality of the sexes. The first movie, “RBG,” was nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary.
Her dedication to the law was perhaps best illustrated by the fact that she always kept a “pocket Constitution” in her handbag.
Months after giving birth, Ginsburg became one of only nine women in a class of 500 at Harvard Law School in 1956. After transferring to Columbia Law School and tied for No. 1 in her graduating class in 1959, she had trouble finding a law firm to hire her. In 1960, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter rejected her for a clerkship on the basis of her gender, despite the recommendation of Harvard Law’s dean.
“A Jew, a woman and a mother, that was a bit much. Three strikes put me out of the game,” she once recalled.
Ginsburg became a professor at Rutgers Law in 1963 and later Columbia Law’s first woman tenured faculty member. She helped launch the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project in 1972.
“Women’s rights are an essential part of the overall human rights agenda, trained on the equal dignity and ability to live in freedom all people should enjoy,” she said.