US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a leading liberal voice on the court who championed civil rights and became an unexpected pop culture icon, has died at 87, the court announced Friday.
The justice died at home in Washington, DC, due to complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer. She was surrounded by her family. Ginsburg revealed in July that she was undergoing chemotherapy for a recurrence of cancer. She had been treated for the disease earlier four times.
“Our nation has lost a justice of historic stature,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement. “We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her, a tireless and resolute champion of justice.”
Ginsburg was appointed to the nation’s highest court by President Bill Clinton in 1993. She was the second woman appointed to the court, and served more than 27 years.
“She fought for the unheard, and through her decisions, she changed the course of American history,” Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted Friday. “We can never repay what she has given us, but we all can honor her legacy by working toward true equality, together.”
Ginsburg was born to Jewish parents in Brooklyn on March 15, 1933. She received her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University, attended Harvard Law School, and received her LL.B. from Columbia Law School, where she later taught law. In 1954, she married Martin D. Ginsburg, a prominent attorney, and was by his side until his death in 2010. In 1971, she helped launch the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, and served as the ACLU’s general counsel from 1973–1980, and on the national board of directors from 1974–1980.
The justice wrote My Own Words, a compilation of her speeches and writings, in 2016. The documentary RBG, about her life as an unexpected pop culture icon, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018 and later opened in theaters.
“When we asked her several years ago how she wanted to be remembered,” RBG filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen said in statement Friday, “she said with characteristic modesty, ‘Just as someone who did whatever she could, with whatever limited talent she had, to move society along in the direction I would like it to be for my children and grandchildren.'”
Supreme Court wrestles with tech issues
During Ginsburg’s tenure on the court, the computing industry rose in economic prominence and quickly created some of the country’s biggest and richest companies. That meant Ginsburg wrestled with important tech cases that reached the Supreme Court.
One thorny dispute concerned how information is treated across international borders, specifically, whether Microsoft would have to turn over information sought under a US search warrant even though the information was stored in a data center in Ireland.
“If Congress wants to regulate in this brave new world, it should do it,” Ginsburg said in a 2018 hearing on the matter. That’s exactly what happened, vacating the case so the justices didn’t have to render a decision.
Ginsburg wasn’t sympathetic to one tech giant, Apple, siding with the majority in a 2019 ruling that let iPhone users sue Apple over app store monopoly issues. Apple also lost out when the court rejected Apple’s appeal of a case involving e-book price fixing.
Record labels came out ahead in a 2005 decision concluding that peer-to-peer music file-sharing companies could be held liable for copyright infringement. Ginsburg was in the majority there, too.
The Supreme Court is playing an increasingly important role in the technology domain. The biggest case on the way pits two giants against each other — software maker Oracle versus search leader Google. That case concerns whether Google was permitted to freely use programming interfaces in Android that came from Oracle’s Java programming language. Many more companies could be affected, though, if the Supreme Court finds those interfaces are, as Oracle argues, covered by copyright rules.
Another case on the way concerns whether Trump will be allowed to block followers on Twitter. In 2019, a lower court said he couldn’t.
As the news spread Friday evening, the dawn of the Jewish new year, many more tributes poured in from politicians, entertainers, business leaders, sports figures and regular Americans who looked up to Ginsburg and wanted to thank her for her legacy.
“Today, on the Jewish New Year, we recall the principle of ‘Tikkun Olam’ which says, the world is flawed and our role is to leave it better than it was,” designer Kenneth Cole tweeted. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg has done that.”
“Justice Ginsburg paved the way for so many women, including me,” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tweeted. “There will never be another like her. Thank you RBG.”
“This is devastating, an incalculable loss,” Megan Rapinoe, co-captain of the US women’s national soccer team, tweeted. “We owe so much to RBG.”