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 many of the successes of the women's movement and a cult figure in feminist circles.
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 Barack 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 argued earlier 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 — would not apply in his mind if a new vacancy occurred.
On Friday night, Cornyn retweeted a report of a fresh McConnell statement: "President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate."
Cruz told Sean Hannity on Friday night that President Trump should nominate a successor to the Supreme Court next week, urging the Senate to confirm the nominee before Election Day. Cruz voted to confirm both of Trump’s Supreme Court previous nominees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
"This nomination is why Donald Trump was elected," said Cruz, who also called Ginsburg a historic justice and a trailblazer. "She leaves a large legacy."
Trump also weighed in on the nomination on Twitter Saturday morning, tagging the Republican National Committee. "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. We have this obligation, without delay!"
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.
“Ruth Bader Ginsburg leaves behind an incredible legacy of standing up for equality and justice," Cornyn's Democratic opponent in November, veteran MJ Hegar, said in a statement. "For decades she worked on the frontlines to secure and uphold the rights of women, workers, and those often left behind. My thoughts are with her family, friends, and the millions of women and Americans she fought for. Today we mourn her loss and tomorrow we commit to honoring her legacy by continuing her work.”
In a joint statement, the leaders of the Texas Democratic Party said that “few did more” than Ginsburg in advancing women’s rights.
“Throughout her tenure on the bench, Justice Ginsburg made us believe that a more equitable future was possible,” said Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa and Vice Chair Carla Brailey. “Now, it is up to us to carry on her legacy. We can finish the fight she started. Our thoughts are with the Ginsburg family. Rest in power.”
Trump released a list of potential nominees to the court earlier this month. It included Cruz, who later said he didn't want to be appointed. James Ho, a Texan who serves on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was also on the list.
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 been on the side of the majority several times when the high court upheld the law against past challenges. Supporters of 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 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Another Texas case before the high court is one from Austin over limited housing options for poor people. The city, which lost in a lower appeals court, is seeking to overturn a Texas law that prevents cities from requiring that landlords accept federal housing vouchers. A procedural matter in the case is set to be discussed internally by the court later this month.
In Ginsburg's final years, young people on the internet took an ironic play on her persona, characterizing her as "the Notorious RBG." A 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.
"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 George W. Bush, a Texan, said in a statement late Friday.
Kelsey Carolan, Jolie McCullough and Emma Platoff contributed to this story.