Liberal icon honored, mourned
Ginsburg has solemn farewell as race intensifies to fill seat
They came from far and near on a bright, warm, early autumn day, the powerful and the powerless, filled with appreciation and anxiety, to pay tribute to the daughter of a Brooklyn bookkeeper who changed the law of the land so that future generations would not have to face the obstacles that she overcame.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the young scholar spurned by every law firm in New York because of her gender before going on to become a champion of women’s rights and a liberal icon, was honored on Wednesday by a former president, by her colleagues on the Supreme Court and by long lines of everyday Americans who felt the influence of her long and storied career.
“Justice Ginsburg’s life was one of the many
versions of the American dream,” Chief Justice John Roberts. said during a ceremony inside the court where she served for 27 years before her death Friday. “Her father was an immigrant from Odessa. Her mother was born four months after her family arrived from Poland. Her mother later worked as a bookkeeper in Brooklyn. Ruth used to ask, ‘What is the difference between a bookkeeper in Brooklyn and a Supreme Court justice?’ Her answer: One generation.”
For a justice who came to enjoy her improbable late-in-life celebrity, it was a modest, unassuming farewell, but one that moved many in a country polarized by politics and suffering from a horrible pandemic. Among those who waited hours to pass below her flag-draped coffin outside the court building were many women, often with daughters or mothers, who saw in Ginsburg a source of personal liberation.
But amid the mourning, there was no cease-fire in the partisan war that has erupted over her seat. While she told her granddaughter that her dying wish was not to be replaced until the next president was chosen, President Donald Trump and his Republican allies pressed ahead to install a new justice by Election Day.
Trump, who said he planned to pay his respects to Ginsburg on Thursday, made clear that he had a personal stake in rushing the confirmation process. He said it was because he expected the outcome of the election to be decided by the Supreme Court and he wanted to ensure that another justice would be there to support him in any legal disputes about the vote count.
“I think this will end up in the Supreme Court,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “And I think it’s very important that we have nine justices.”
Five of the eight current members of the court were appointed by Republican presidents, but Trump appeared concerned that one of them, Roberts, might side with the three remaining liberals, as he has on occasion, leaving a 4-4 deadlock.
The president plans to announce his nomination at 3 p.m. MDT Saturday, and advisers expect him to select Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a favorite of anti-abortion conservatives. The Senate Judiciary Committee may hold confirmation hearings as soon as Oct. 12, with a final confirmation vote the last week of October.
Ginsburg, who died at 87 on Friday, made her final return to the Supreme Court on Wednesday morning as her coffin was borne into the majestic building by police officers past dozens of former clerks lining the stairs. She was taken into the Great Hall, where her family, former clerks and fellow justices waited, all wearing black face masks and positioned at a distance from one another in keeping with pandemic guidelines.
Roberts, the only other speaker, recalled that Ginsburg aspired to be an opera singer but pursued the law only to find herself the subject of discrimination because of her sex at law school and in the working world.
“She was not an opera star, but she found her stage right behind me in our courtroom,” the chief justice said. “There she won famous victories that helped move our nation closer to equal justice under law, to the extent that women are now a majority in law schools, not simply a handful. Later, she became a star on the bench.”
The flag-draped casket of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg arrives Wednesday at the Supreme Court in Washington. Ginsburg died Friday of cancer. Ginsburg, a champion of women’s rights and a liberal icon, was 87.
People pay respects as Ginsburg lies in repose under the portico at the top of the front steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.