US judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg dead at 87

Affectionately known as 'Notorious RBG', US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died.
Affectionately known as 'Notorious RBG', US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died.

US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a towering women's rights champion who became the court's second female justice, has died at her home in Washington. She was 87.

Ginsburg died on Friday of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer, the court said.

Her death just over six weeks before Election Day is likely to set off a heated battle over whether President Donald Trump should nominate, and the Republican-led Senate should confirm, her replacement, or if the seat should remain vacant until the outcome of his race against Democrat Joe Biden is known.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Friday that the Senate will vote on Trump's pick to replace Ginsburg, even though it's an election year.

Trump called Ginsburg an "amazing woman" and did not mention filling her vacant Supreme Court seat when he spoke to reporters following a rally in Bemidji, Minnesota.

Biden said the winner of the November election should choose Ginsburg's replacement.

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

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 to her admirers. Young women especially seemed to embrace the court's Jewish grandmother, affectionately calling her the Notorious RBG, for her defence of the rights of women and minorities, and the strength and resilience she displayed in the face of personal loss and health crises.

Those health issues included five bouts with cancer beginning in 1999, falls that resulted in broken ribs, insertion of a stent to clear a blocked artery and assorted other hospitalisations 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. Instead, Trump will almost certainly try to push Ginsburg's successor through the Republican-controlled Senate - and move the conservative court even more to the right.

Ginsburg was a mother of two, an opera lover and an intellectual who watched arguments behind oversized glasses for many years. She was a stickler for following the rules.

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.

Following her death, Clinton said, "Her 27 years on the Court exceeded even my highest expectations when I appointed her."

Besides civil rights, Ginsburg took an interest in capital punishment, voting repeatedly to limit its use. During her tenure, the court declared it unconstitutional for states to execute the intellectually disabled and killers younger than 18.

Ginsburg authored powerful dissents of her own in cases involving abortion, voting rights and pay discrimination against women. She said some were aimed at swaying the opinions of her fellow judges while others were "an appeal to the intelligence of another day" in the hopes that they would provide guidance to future courts.

"Hope springs eternal," she said in 2007, "and when I am writing a dissent, I'm always hoping for that fifth or sixth vote - even though I'm disappointed more often than not."

In 1999, Ginsburg had surgery for colon cancer and received radiation and chemotherapy. She had surgery again in 2009 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and in December 2018 for cancerous growths on her left lung. Following the last surgery, she missed court sessions for the first time in more than 25 years on the bench.

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

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 had "three strikes against her" - for being Jewish, female and a mother, as she put it in 2007.

She had 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 went on to become a prominent tax lawyer and law professor. He died in 2010. She is survived by two children, Jane and James, and several grandchildren.

Ginsburg once said that she had not entered the law as a champion of equal rights.

"I thought I could do a lawyer's job better than any other," she wrote. "I have no talent in the arts, but I do write fairly well and analyse problems clearly."

Australian Associated Press