US Supreme Court Justice and liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday, opening a crucial vacancy on the high court expected to set off a pitched political battle at the peak of the presidential campaign.
Affectionately known as the Notorious RBG, the 87-year-old Ginsburg was the oldest of nine Supreme Court justices.
She died after a fight with pancreatic cancer, the court announced, saying she passed away “surrounded by her family at her home in Washington, DC.”
Coming just 46 days before an election in which President Donald Trump lags his Democratic rival Joe Biden in the polls, the vacancy offers the Republican a chance to lock in a conservative majority at the court for decades to come.
Trump issued a statement praising Ginsburg as a “titan of the law,” but gave no indication whether he intended to press ahead with a nomination.
Accolades flowed in for the pioneering Jewish justice.
“Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature,” said Chief Justice John Roberts.
Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama said in a tweet that Ginsburg “fought to the end, through her cancer, with unwavering faith in our democracy and its ideals.”
Biden said she was “an American hero, a giant of legal doctrine, and a relentless voice in the pursuit of that highest American ideal: Equal Justice Under Law.”
In Washington, hundreds of tearful mourners laid flowers in front of the Supreme Court, where the diminutive Ginsburg sat for 27 years — even taking arguments and issuing opinions from her hospital bed after repeated bouts of illness over the past two years.
US flags flew at half-mast on each side of the court building. People lit candles on the steps of the court while others held rainbow flags.
Born in Brooklyn in 1933, Ginsuburg was a law-school star when women didn’t study law, and a law professor with a powerful impact on the establishment of rights for women and minorities.
She died on the evening that marked the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. According to tradition, those who die during the holiday are revered as a “tzaddik,” or a person of great righteousness.
Ginsburg’s death gives Trump the opportunity to tilt the court to the right, potentially for decades, with media reporting that a new nomination could be quick.