WASHINGTON • Ruth Bader Ginsburg became a heroine to the American left after overcoming entrenched sexism in the legal profession to ascend to the US Supreme Court, where she championed gender equality and other liberal causes during 27 years on the bench.
Justice Ginsburg, who died on Friday at age 87 of complications from pancreatic cancer, was a fierce advocate for women’s rights – winning major gender-discrimination cases before the Supreme Court – before being appointed to the top US judicial body in 1993 by then President Bill Clinton. The diminutive dynamo became the court’s leading liberal voice.
Rising from a working class family in Brooklyn, she overcame hostility towards women in the male-dominated worlds of law school and the legal profession to become just the second woman ever to serve on the nine-member Supreme Court.
During her final years on the court, she became something of a pop icon for American liberals, the subject of the 2018 feature film On The Basis Of Sex, the 2018 Oscar-nominated documentary RBG, and sketches on the popular TV show Saturday Night Live, even inspiring an action figure.
Her small stature – she stood at 1.55m – and frailty in later years belied an outsized persona and clout.
Fans called her “The Notorious R.B.G.”, inspired by the late American rapper The Notorious B.I.G.
“I ask no favour for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks,” Justice Ginsburg said in the documentary.
She was a reliable vote in favour of liberal causes on the court on other issues as well, including defending abortion rights, expanding gay rights, preserving the Obama-care healthcare law, and advancing the rights of racial minorities, the poor and disenfranchised.
Her death gives Republican President Donald Trump the opportunity to make his third appointment to the court and expand its conservative majority to 6-3.
Justice Ginsburg had experienced a series of health issues. In July, she disclosed she had a recurrence of cancer after bouts with pancreatic cancer in 2009 and last year. She also survived bouts with lung cancer in 2018 and colon cancer in 1999.
Former president Jimmy Carter made Justice Ginsburg a federal appellate judge in 1980 and Mr Clinton elevated her to the Supreme Court 13 years later.
She joined Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who became the first woman justice in 1981, on the bench. During her tenure, two more women were named to the high court: Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. When asked how many women there should be on the court, Justice Ginsburg, with an impish smile, always gave the same answer: “Nine.”