US mourns judicial icon Ginsburg as political battle ensues

The United States was mourning the passing of justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the nation’s Supreme Court and an icon of equality who was famed for her sharp-worded dissents.

Mourners gathered early on Saturday outside the Supreme Court building in Washington to lay wreaths and pay their respects to Ginsburg the day after she died aged 87 after a long battle with cancer.

Her death has sparked anguish and fear among the liberal-left, as conservatives gear up for a process to replace her on the court, possibly even before the November election.

President Donald Trump urged his conservative Republican Party to unify behind swiftly appointing a new justice to the top court.

Under the constitution, judges are appointed by the president and then confirmed by the Senate, which is currently under Republican control.

“We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices,” Trump said on Twitter.

“We have this obligation, without delay!” Trump said.

The push puts several Republicans in a tight spot, as some had pledged not to make Supreme Court appointments so close to an election. In 2016, a similar battle took place, and Republicans had blocked an appointment by former president Barack Obama.

Accolades poured in from the right and the left, as Ginsburg earned respect from even those who disagreed with her judicial decisions, and her dissents often inspired legislation and gave courage to civil rights movements.

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Flags flew at half-mast at buildings across the country and newspaper front pages carried her photo.

The judge was hailed as a patriot and a defender of freedoms and was remembered for her role in using the law to fight for equality, in particular women’s rights. She had repeatedly professed her love for the law and saw it as a powerful tool for justice.

She was “someone who believed that equal justice under law only had meaning if it applied to every single American,” said Obama, from the centre-left Democrats.

Obama, echoing the vast majority of elected officials in the Democratic party who have spoken up in the hours since Ginsburg’s death, urged Republicans in the Senate to wait until after the presidential inauguration in January to fill the vacancy on the nine-member court.

However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the upper chamber of Congress will hold a vote on any nomination by President Donald Trump, who has already appointed two judges to the top court.

Liberals fear a shift in the ideological balance on the court if Trump gets a third appointee, which could affect issues like abortion and healthcare.

Trump praised Ginsburg as a pioneer and as a judge who “epitomized powerful yet respectful argument; that you can disagree with someone without being disagreeable to them.”

On the staunch conservative right-wing, a minority chose to remember Ginsburg primarily for her role in defending a woman’s right to have an abortion, with one member of Congress laying blame for the “murder” of children at her doorstep.

The issue, which has long been a divisive topic in the US and which has been somewhat contained in respect of a Supreme Court ruling from 1973 that ensured a woman’s access to the medical procedure, could now be revisited at this election.

In recent years, the court has decisively ruled on hot button issues, including the expansion of healthcare protections, shoring up gun ownership rights and extending marriage rights to gays and lesbians, while this year ruling in favour of transgender labour rights.


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