19 Sep 2020

US Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg dies of cancer - court statement

12:41 pm on 19 September 2020

US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died of cancer, the court says in a statement.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Photo: AFP

Ginsburg, 87, died of metastatic pancreas cancer at her home in Washington, DC, on Friday evening surrounded by her family, the statement said.

Her departure could dramatically alter the ideological balance of the court, which currently has a 5-4 conservative majority, by moving it further to the right.

"Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature," Chief Justice John Roberts said in a 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."

Trump, seeking re-election on 3 November, already has appointed two conservatives to lifetime posts on the court, Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. Supreme Court appointments require Senate confirmation, and Trump's fellow Republicans control the chamber.

Supreme Court justices, who receive lifetime appointments, play an enormous role in shaping US policies on hot-button issues like abortion, LGBT rights, gun rights, religious liberty, the death penalty and presidential powers. For example, the court in 1973 legalised abortion nationwide - a decision that some conservatives are eager to overturn - and in 2015 allowed same-sex marriage across the United States.

Ginsburg was appointed in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, and in recent years served as the most senior member of the court's liberal wing, consistently delivering progressive votes on the most divisive social issues of the day.

Ginsburg is the oldest sitting justice on the Supreme Court. She was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1993 - becoming the second woman ever to join the court.

Before she became a justice, she had a background in civil rights law - fighting gender discrimination and arguing six cases before the Supreme Court.

She has become an icon for liberals - in recent years, she has been the subject of a biopic, On the Basis of Sex, a documentary, and a bestselling book called Notorious RBG.

Ginsburg had suffered from five bouts of cancer, most recently a recurrence in early 2020.

She received treatment for colon cancer in 1999, and pancreatic cancer in 2009. In December, she had surgery to remove two cancerous nodules from her lung.

She has refused to retire from her role, once saying in an interview: "As long as I can do the job full steam, I will be here."

Just days before her death, Ginsburg said her most fervent wish was that she would not be replaced until a new president was installed.

A private interment service will be held at Arlington National Cemetery, the court said, but did not specify a date.

- Reuters/BBC