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Women's Rights Champion Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Dies At 87

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Photo Credit: Steve Petteway, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

It wasn't a stretch to call Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg a rock star. A private interment service will be held at Arlington National Cemetery for the petite but fiery champion of gender equality, who died Friday in Washington, D.C.

Her family was with Ginsburg, who died of complications from metastatic pancreas cancer, the court said. She was 87.

"Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature," Chief Justice John Roberts said "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 feminist trailblazer – and former Rutgers Law School professor -- first made her name with the American Civil Liberties Union, coordinating a legal strategy focused on making sure the 14th Amendment's equal protection guarantee applied to women. She also was founder and director of the ACLU’s Women's Rights Project.

Appointed in 1993 by President Clinton, Ginsburg was only the second female justice to sit on the nation's highest court.

She intensely championed same-sex marriage, abortion and voting rights, workers’ rights, affirmative action and the separation of church and state, as well as public health care.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr said Ginsberg "led one of the great lives in the history of American law. She was a brilliant and successful litigator, an admired court of appeals judge, and a profoundly influential Supreme Court Justice. 

" For all her achievements in those roles, she will perhaps be remembered most for inspiring women in the legal profession and beyond," Barr added.  "She and I did not agree on every issue, but her legal ability, personal integrity, and determination were beyond doubt. She leaves a towering legacy, and all who seek justice mourn her loss.”

Ginsburg was the first Supreme Court justice to officiate a same sex marriage when she joined longtime friend Michael Kaiser with economist John Roberts at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. in 2013.

Perhaps Ginsburg’s most notable opinion was in the 1996 States v. Virginia decision, which held that the state-funded Virginia Military Institute’s all-male admissions policy was unconstitutional.

"The constitutional violation in this case is the categorical exclusion of women from an extraordinary educational opportunity afforded men," she wrote.

More recently, a fifth bout with cancer didn’t deter the moderate liberal from speaking events that drew standing ovations from rapt crowds.

Ginsburg credited her mother, who died of cancer a day before the future justice graduated from high school, for her fervor in fighting for women’s rights.

"My mother told me two things constantly: One was to be a lady, and the other was to be independent,” she once said.

Her views – as well as her workout regimen – made Ginsburg a huge draw on the lecture circuit.

Her popularity led to t-shirts, bobbleheads, coffee mugs –even a nickname: “the Notorious R.B.G.”

It was a sweet twist for Ginsburg, who once dreamed of being an opera star and enjoyed a a small role on opening night of the Washington National Opera's "The Daughter of the Regiment." at the Kennedy Center in 2016.

"I have often said I would remain a member of the Court as long as I can do the job full steam," Ginsburg, the court’s most senior liberal member, said in a statement two months ago. " I remain fully able to do that."

Born March 15, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York, Ruth Joan "Kiki" Bader graduated first in Cornell University’s Class of 1954 -- and grew up a Yankee fan.

That same year she married her college sweetheart, tax attorney Martin Ginsburg, with whom she had two children, Jane and James. The couple remained together until he died from cancer a decade ago.

Ginsburg went to Harvard Law School, transferred to Columbia Law School, then became a federal judge’s clerk in Manhattan before becoming a law professor at Rutgers.

She later became Columbia University’s first female tenured professor.

President Carter appointed Ginsburg to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1980. Thirteen years later, she ascended to the nation’s highest court.

"I would just like people to think of me as a judge who did the best she could with whatever limited talent I had to keep our country true to what makes it a great nation and to make things a little better than they might have been if I hadn't been there," she once said.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal issued a statement that read:

"We mourn the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a trailblazing jurist and crusader for women's rights and equal protection for all under the Constitution, whose jurisprudence will impact as well as inform our democracy for generations to come. Justice Ginsburg's unflagging pursuit of justice, her incisive opinions and dissents, and her principled progressivism have inspired, and will continue to inspire, all of us who cherish our society as a nation based on the rule of law.

"While we can never repay what she has gifted us, we can honor her legacy by continuing her tireless fight for a more inclusive world. Our nation has come so far in equality and in justice, and we owe so much of this progress to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Rest In Peace, RBG."

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