United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died at the age of 87.
Ginsburg died of complications from metastatic pancreas cancer at her home in Washington, DC, surrounded by her family, the court said in a statement on Friday evening.
“Our nation has lost a jurist of historic stature,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in the statement.
“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.”
The White House flag was lowered to half-staff Friday evening after Ginsburg’s death was announced.
Ginsburg was a giant of American jurisprudence and a stalwart defender of women’s and voting rights.
She was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993 by then US president Bill Clinton – becoming only the second woman ever to serve on the court.
In recent years, Ginsburg became a popular culture icon known as the “Notorious RBG” and was the subject of 2018 documentary film on her life and legal career.
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.
Chief Justice John Roberts
Ginsburg announced in July that she was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for lesions on her liver, the latest of her several battles with cancer.
Her death a little more than six weeks before the November 3 presidential election is likely to start a fight in the US Senate over whether she should be replaced by a jurist nominated by US President Donald Trump.
Trump has already has named two conservative justices to the court.
According to National Public Radio, just days before her death, Ginsburg dictated this statement to her granddaughter Clara Spera: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer echoed that on Friday, saying the “vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president”.
He described Ginsburg as a “giant in American history” and said, “she would want us all to fight as hard as we can to preserve her legacy.”
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
With the confirmation of Trump nominee Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, the US Supreme Court has been evenly divided between conservative and liberal justices with Roberts, the chief justice, acting in its most recent terms as a swing vote.
If Trump nominates a conservative as Ginsburg’s replacement, it would threaten to swing that balance to conservatives and potentially threaten the landmark precedent in US law of Roe v Wade, which gave women a privacy right to abortion.
In 2016, Senate Republicans refused to seat then-president Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, waiting until after President Trump was elected to confirm his nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from Virginia, said Trump appears keen to nominate someone to the Supreme Court who would sit well with his Republican base ahead of the upcoming presidential election.
“The difficulty may be finding that nominee, doing the vetting and then getting them in front of the Senate before the election,” Fisher said. “But if the Republicans are minded to do this, this is something they could push through before November 3.”