Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U.S. Supreme Court justice, dies at 87

Photo does not have a caption

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg smiles during a reception where she was presented with an honorary doctoral degree at the University of Buffalo School of Law in 2019. She died Friday at the age of 87. Credit: Lindsay DeDario/REUTERS

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the high court, died Friday due to complications from cancer.

Nominated in 1993 by former President Bill Clinton, the liberal justice was the legal force behind much of the successes of the women's movement and a cult figure in feminist circles.

"She dedicated many of her 87 remarkable years to the pursuit of justice and equality, and she inspired more than one generation of women and girls," former president and Texan George W. Bush said in a statement late Friday.

Legal watchers have long argued that a Ginsburg vacancy on the Supreme Court would precipitate one of the nastiest fights on Capitol Hill in decades.

In 2016, Senate Republicans — including U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas — refused to confirm President Obama's nominee to replace Ginsburg’s close friend Justice Antonin Scalia. Scalia died months before that year’s presidential election.

“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been a titan of the Supreme Court for more than a quarter of a century," Cornyn said in a statement Friday. "Despite our ideological differences, I have always maintained a deep respect for Justice Ginsburg. Her unwavering commitment to public service has inspired a generation of young Americans – particularly women – to reach for their dreams.”

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already argued this year that the stated logic of 2016 opposition to replacing a justice in an election year — "the American people should have a say in the court's direction" so close to a presidential election — will not apply in his mind if a new vacancy occurred.

The coming battle could result in a significant conservative majority on the country’s highest court. The fight could also overtake the presidential campaign and Senate races across the country, including Cornyn's bid for a fourth term this November.

Ginsburg’s death may also have major implications for a Texas-led lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act, set for oral argument Nov. 10. The justice had several times been on the side of the majority when the high court upheld the law against past challenges. Supporters of President Obama's landmark health law had pinned their hopes on Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court's four liberal members to uphold it again.

Texas leads a coalition of Republican states arguing that the entire ACA must fall after federal courts have declared the individual mandate — one of its critical provisions — unconstitutional. While many legal scholars are skeptical of Texas' argument, it has won some favor among conservative-leaning federal judges in Texas and at the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In her final years, young people on the internet took an ironic play on Ginsburg's persona, characterizing her as "the Notorious RGB." An ironic likeness of her surfaced on the internet featuring her wearing her judicial garb and a crooked crown. That persona became the subject of a documentary, a film, frequent Saturday Night Live skits, Halloween costumes and even tattoos

Kelsey Carolan and Juan Pablo Garnham contributed to this story.