Tributes paid to US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Video report by ITV News Washington Correspondent Robert Moore

The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, just six weeks before the US presidential election, has prompted heated debate about the crucial high court vacancy she leaves behind.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday at her home in Washington aged 87, after complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer.

A diminutive yet towering women’s rights champion who became the court’s second female justice, Ms Ginsburg - known by her supporters as RBG - became something of a rock star figure to her admirers.

Ms Ginsburg was nominated to the court by Bill Clinton Credit: Marcy Nighswander/AP

Her death has already set off a heated battle over whether President Donald Trump should nominate, her replacement, or if the seat should remain vacant until the outcome of his race against Democrat Joe Biden is known.

President Trump has already called on the Senate to fill the position "without delay".

While Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said late on Friday that the Senate will vote on Trump’s pick, even though it’s an election year.

  • Tributes flood in for 'a woman of brilliance'

Tributes have been paid to Ms Ginsburg, with Chief Justice John Roberts saying: “Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature.

"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".

Former president Bill Clinton, who appointed Ms Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, said: "Her 27 years on the Court exceeded even my highest expectations when I appointed her."

While president Donald Trump said in a statement the US was mourning a “titan of the law” who showed people could “disagree without being disagreeable toward one’s colleagues or different points of view”.

Democrat candidate at this year's election Joe Biden said Ms Ginsburg "practiced the highest American ideals as a justice; equality and justice under the law" adding: "Ruth Bader Ginsburg stood for all of us."

Her legacy goes beyond the world of politics, however, with the Duchess of Sussex describing Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a “woman of brilliance” in her tribute.

In a statement, Meghan said: “With an incomparable and indelible legacy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg will forever be known as a woman of brilliance, a justice of courage, and a human of deep conviction.

“She has been a true inspiration to me since I was a girl. Honour her, remember her, act for her.”

Hollywood stars have also paid their respects.

Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer wrote: “She tried to hang in there for us!! Soar on angel’s wings.”

While Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness said thanked Ms Ginsburg "for everything you stood for" and urged those in the US to vote in November's election.

British model and actor Cara Delevingne posted a picture of Ms Ginsburg holding up her first in a show of solidarity and said: “Trailblazer. Icon. Legend. Role model. Fighter. The true definition of an empowered woman – this is a heartbreaking loss for us all. Please, please, please VOTE in her honour.”

While Marvel star Robert Downey Jr shared a picture of the late judge alongside a quote said to have been made by her.

Downey Jr said: “‘Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.’ RIP, RBG.”

Mariah Carey also paid tribute, writing on Instagram: “Thank you for a lifetime of service. Thank you for changing history. We will never let it be undone. RIP RBG.”

  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Her life and legacy

Joan Ruth Bader was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1933, the second daughter in a middle-class family.

Her older sister, who gave her the lifelong nickname Kiki, died aged six, so Ms Ginsburg grew up in Brooklyn’s Flatbush section as an only child. Her dream, she said, was to be an opera singer.

Ms Ginsburg graduated at the top of her Columbia University law school class in 1959 but could not find a law firm willing to hire her. She later said she had “three strikes against her” — for being Jewish, female and a mother.

She married her husband, Martin, in 1954, the year she graduated from Cornell University. She attended Harvard University’s law school but transferred to Columbia when her husband took a law job there.

Martin Ginsburg, who died in 2010, was a prominent tax attorney and law professor.

Ms Ginsburg is survived by two children, Jane and James, and several grandchildren.

Ms Ginsburg announced in July she was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for lesions on her liver, the latest of her several battles with cancer.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg died aged 87 Credit: Alex Brandon/AP

She spent her final years on the bench as the unquestioned leader of the court’s liberal wing and became something of a rock star figure to her admirers.

Young women especially seemed to embrace the court’s Jewish grandmother, affectionately calling her the Notorious RBG – inspired by the rapper Notorious BIG – for her defence of the rights of women and minorities.

She was also admired for her strength in battling health issues, including five bouts of cancer beginning in 1999, falls that resulted in broken ribs, the insertion of a stent to clear a blocked artery and assorted other hospital treatments after she turned 75.

She resisted calls by liberals to retire during Barack Obama’s presidency at a time when Democrats held the Senate and a replacement with similar views could have been confirmed.

Ms Ginsburg’s appointment by President Bill Clinton in 1993 was the first by a Democrat in 26 years.

She initially found a comfortable ideological home somewhere left of centre on a conservative court dominated by Republican appointees. Her liberal voice grew stronger the longer she served.

Ms Ginsburg was a mother of two, an opera lover and an intellectual who watched arguments behind oversized glasses for many years, though she ditched them for more fashionable frames in her later years.

Mourner pays tribute to Ms Ginsburg outside Supreme Court of Justice

She argued six key cases before the court in the 1970s when she was an architect of the women’s rights movement. She won five.

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg does not need a seat on the Supreme Court to earn her place in the American history books,” Mr Clinton said at the time of her appointment. “She has already done that.”

On the court, where she was known as a facile writer, her most significant majority opinions were the 1996 ruling that ordered the Virginia Military Institute to accept women or give up its state funding, and the 2015 decision that upheld independent commissions some states use to draw congressional districts.

People lay flowers and light candies outside the Supreme Court late on Friday after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg Credit: Alex Brandon/AP

Besides civil rights, Ms Ginsburg took an interest in capital punishment, voting repeatedly to limit its use.

In addition, she questioned the quality of lawyers for impoverished accused murderers.

In the most divisive of cases, including the Bush v Gore electoral decision in 2000, she was often at odds with the court’s more conservative members — initially Chief Justice William H Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.

A message left outside the Supreme Court late on Friday Credit: Alex Brandon/AP

The division remained the same after John Roberts replaced Mr Rehnquist as chief justice, Samuel Alito took Ms O’Connor’s seat, and, under Mr Trump, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh joined the court, in seats that had been held by Mr Scalia and Mr Kennedy respectively.

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