By David G. Savage Los Angeles Times
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg died Fried at her home in Washington. The 87-year-old trailblazer died of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer. #RIP #ruthbaderginsburg #RIPRBG
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who championed women's rights, first as a trailblazing civil rights attorney who methodically chipped away at discriminatory practices, then as the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court, and finally as an unlikely pop culture icon, has died at her home in the nation's capital.
Ginsburg, who had battled cancer for more than a decade, died Friday evening due to complications of the cancer, the U.S. Supreme Court announced. She was 87.
A feminist hero lovingly dubbed Notorious RBG, Ginsburg emerged over the last decade as the leading voice of the court's liberal wing, best known for her stinging dissents on a bench that has mostly skewed right since her 1993 appointment.
For her first two decades, Ginsburg was a respected but not highly influential member of the high court _ a reliable liberal vote who was often overshadowed by Sandra Day O'Connor, the first female justice and the court's swing vote.
But after O'Connor and John Paul Stevens retired, Ginsburg became a major force on the court, her soft voice and diminutive stature belying a biting tongue and inexhaustible energy that pushed her to work through numerous health scares, including colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, lung cancer and a 2018 fall that left her with broken ribs.
She wrote several major decisions, including a 1996 ruling in U.S. v. Virginia that opened the doors of Virginia Military Institute to women and struck down discriminatory admissions policies of state-run schools. She supported abortion rights, gay rights, affirmative action and the strict separation of church and state.
But Ginsburg was best known for her impassioned dissents, which she often delivered in court while wearing a special dark, beaded "dissent collar" over her traditional black robe.
She called it "hubris" in 2013 when the court's five conservatives struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act as outdated. Tossing out the protection, she said, "is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."
A year later, she slammed the same five for ruling that Hobby Lobby Corp. had a religious-freedom right not to pay for legally required contraceptives for their employees. Corporations do not have religious views, she said, and Congress "left healthcare decisions, including the choice among contraceptive methods, in the hands of women."
During oral arguments over a 2013 gay marriage case, Ginsburg said the government's Defense of Marriage Act effectively had set up an unfair, two-tier system. "There are two kinds of marriage: full marriage and the skim-milk marriage," she said. In that case, she was part of the majority that overturned the federal law.
Perhaps her most notable dissent came in 2007, when Ginsburg, then the only female justice, described herself as "all alone in (her) corner of the bench" following O'Connor's retirement.
A five-member majority had overturned a sex discrimination verdict in favor of Lilly Ledbetter, an Alabama woman who was paid far less than the men who held the same job at Goodyear Tire plants. The majority ruled that Ledbetter had waited too long to file her complaint, though that was because she had been unaware of the disparity.
Ginsburg, in dissent, said the majority "does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination." Its interpretation of the law "ignored the realities" of the workplace and betrayed the "core purposes" of the Civil Rights Act, she said. Ginsburg said Congress should act to correct the court's mistake, and two years later the House and Senate passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, providing more time to file claims. It was the first measure signed into law by President Barack Obama.
Well into her 80s, Ginsburg was surprised and delighted to discover she had become a celebrity, particularly among a new generation of women. Her appearances at universities and law schools drew large, adoring crowds, and her face adorned with a crown was featured on T-shirts and coffee mugs. She was the subject of several films, including "RBG," a documentary.
"It seemed that her dissents had really connected with a lot of people, especially millennials," said Betsy West, a co-director of the film. "It's this incongruousness of an 85-year-old Jewish grandmother who is speaking truth to power."
At times her frankness backfired. In a 2016 interview, Ginsburg called Donald Trump, then the Republican presidential nominee, a "faker," saying: "He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego."
Such criticism of a political candidate was highly unusual for a sitting Supreme Court justice, and Ginsburg apologized.
There was also friction between Ginsburg and some liberals in 2014, when pressure grew for her to retire while Democrats still held the Senate and the White House, which could guarantee that her seat would be filled by another liberal. Ginsburg brushed aside such concerns and let it be known she was not going anywhere, saying she still had a lot to contribute to the court.
In 2014, Republicans claimed the Senate majority, and two years after that, the White House was won by Trump, who had promised to appoint only conservative, anti-abortion justices.
Ginsburg was the first Democratic nominee to the high court in a quarter-century when she was chosen in 1993 by President Bill Clinton.
Ironically, she was not immediately embraced by liberals and women's rights activists. Some feared she was too moderate, and others were concerned by Ginsburg's past criticism of the landmark abortion ruling Roe v. Wade. But Ginsburg's objections were not about the outcome of the ruling. Rather, she believed the court's opinion should have been based on more solid legal footing, namely a woman's right to equal treatment under the 14th Amendment rather than a court-created "right to privacy."
In her interview for the appointment, Ginsburg impressed Clinton, who hailed her as the Thurgood Marshall of the women's rights movement. Where Marshall, the nation's first African American justice, led the legal fight against racial discrimination in the 1940s and '50s, Ginsburg led the legal fight against sex discrimination in the 1970s.
"She helped us read our Constitution to understand that it protects us all," said Yale Law professor Judith Resnik. "She brought vision, skill, intellect and kindness to the law."
Ginsburg grew up at a time when the law treated men and women differently. And though racial discrimination came to be widely seen as cruel and wrong, gender distinctions enjoyed a better reputation, at least among powerful men.
"Legislators and judges, in those years, were overwhelmingly white, well-heeled and male," Ginsburg said years later, saying they saw gender discrimination as "operating benignly in women's favor."
Though she graduated first in her class at Columbia Law School, Ginsburg could not get an interview to be a clerk at the all-male Supreme Court and struggled to even find employment in New York City.
The Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, had struck down racial segregation in 1954 and ruled the "equal protection" clause of the Constitution did not allow legal discrimination by race. But the court's support for civil rights did not extend to women's rights. In 1961, the Warren court said a "woman is still regarded as the center of home and family life," so women may be excused from serving on juries. The unanimous opinion in Hoyt v. Florida rejected the claim of an abused woman who had killed her husband with a baseball bat and was convicted by an all-male jury. Gwendolyn Hoyt, the defendant, did not see Florida's law as benign. She believed female jurors would have had a better understanding of her plight.