‘Thank you, RBG’: Leaders react with sadness, shock to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg participates in a discussion at the Georgetown University Law Center on February 10, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Sarah Silbiger | Getty Images

U.S. leaders and top politicians responded with shock and sadness Friday evening after the Supreme Court announced that Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died at the age of 87.

Here is a collection of the sentiments shared by some of the nation’s former and current officials. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered Capitol Hill’s flags be lowered to half-staff while the White House did the same, according to spokespersons.

President Donald Trump

President Trump was stunned when a reporter informed him of the news.

“Wow. I didn’t know that. You’re telling me now for the first time. She led an amazing life. What else can you say? She was an amazing woman, whether you agreed or not, she was an amazing woman who led an amazing life. I’m actually saddened to hear that. I am saddened to hear that.”

Later, the president tweeted out a formal statement:

Former President Barack Obama 

“Sixty years ago, Ruth Bader Ginsburg applied to be a Supreme Court clerk. She’d studied at two of our finest law schools and had ringing recommendations. But because she was a woman, she was rejected. Ten years later, she sent her first brief to the Supreme Court — which led it to strike down a state law based on gender discrimination for the first time. And then, for nearly three decades, as the second woman ever to sit on the highest court in the land, she was a warrior for gender equality — someone who believed that equal justice under law only had meaning if it applied to every single American.

Over a long career on both sides of the bench — as a relentless litigator and an incisive jurist — Justice Ginsburg helped us see that discrimination on the basis of sex isn’t about an abstract ideal of equality; that it doesn’t only harm women; that it has real consequences for all of us. It’s about who we are — and who we can be.

Justice Ginsburg inspired the generations who followed her, from the tiniest trick-or-treaters to law students burning the midnight oil to the most powerful leaders in the land. Michelle and I admired her greatly, we’re profoundly thankful for the legacy she left this country, and we offer our gratitude and our condolences to her children and grandchildren tonight.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought to the end, through her cancer, with unwavering faith in our democracy and its ideals. That’s how we remember her. But she also left instructions for how she wanted her legacy to be honored.

Four and a half years ago, when Republicans refused to hold a hearing or an up-or-down vote on Merrick Garland, they invented the principle that the Senate shouldn’t fill an open seat on the Supreme Court before a new president was sworn in.

A basic principle of the law — and of everyday fairness — is that we apply rules with consistency, and not based on what’s convenient or advantageous in the moment. The rule of law, the legitimacy of our courts, the fundamental workings of our democracy all depend on that basic principle. As votes are already being cast in this election, Republican Senators are now called to apply that standard. The questions before the Court now and in the coming years — with decisions that will determine whether or not our economy is fair, our society is just, women are treated equally, our planet survives, and our democracy endures — are too consequential to future generations for courts to be filled through anything less than an unimpeachable process.”

Obama tweeted out a picture of him and Ginsburg walking in the White House lawns along with a link to the statement posted on Medium:

Chief Justice John Roberts

“Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature. 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.”

Former President George W. Bush

“Laura and I join our fellow Americans in mourning the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 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. Justice Ginsburg loved our country and the law. Laura and I are fortunate to have known this smart and humorous trailblazer, and we send our condolences to the Ginsburg family.”

Former President Bill Clinton

“With the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, America has lost one of the most extraordinary Justices ever to serve on the Supreme Court. She was a magnificent judge and a wonderful person — a brilliant lawyer with a caring heart, common sense, fierce devotion to fairness and equality, and boundless courage in the face of her own adversity.

“Her 27 years on the Court exceeded even my highest expectations when I appointed her. Her landmark opinions advancing gender equality, marriage equality, the rights of people with disabilities, the rights of immigrants, and so many more moved us closer to ‘a more perfect union.’ Her powerful dissents, especially her ringing defense of voting rights and other equal protection claims, reminded us that we walk away from our Constitution’s promise at our peril. And she did it all with kindness, grace, and calm, treating even her strongest adversaries with respect. Hillary and I will miss her terribly, and will be forever grateful for her life’s work and her friendship. Our thoughts and prayers are with Jane, James, their families, and everyone across America who looked to Justice Ginsburg for guidance, inspiration, and strength.”

Former President Jimmy Carter

“Rosalynn and I are saddened by the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A powerful legal mind and a staunch advocate for gender equality, she has been a beacon of justice during her long and remarkable career. I was proud to have appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1980. We join countless Americans in mourning the loss of a truly great woman. We will keep her family in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg stood for all of us. As I said she was a beloved figure. As young attorney you all know the story she persisted overcoming a lot of, a lot of obstacles for a woman practicing law in those days, as well as she continued until she – she moved herself in a position where she could end up changing the law of the land, are leading the effort to provide equality for women in every field. And she led the advance of equal rights for women. … She was fierce and unflinching in her pursuit of the civil and legal rights of – civil rights of everyone. Her opinions and her dissent are going to continue to shape the basis for our law for a generation. And, you know, tonight and the coming days, we should focus on the loss of her, the Justice, and her enduring legacy.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

“The Senate and the nation mourn the sudden passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the conclusion of her extraordinary American life. Justice Ginsburg overcame one personal challenge and professional barrier after another. She climbed from a modest Brooklyn upbringing to a seat of our nation’s highest court and into the pages of American history.”

“President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham

“It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Justice Ginsburg. Justice Ginsburg was a trailblazer who possessed tremendous passion for her causes. She served with honor and distinction as a member of the Supreme Court. While I had many differences with her on legal philosophy, I appreciate her service to our nation. My thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends. May she Rest In Peace.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein 

“The country lost a truly amazing woman tonight with the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She may have been small of stature but she was an absolute giant of jurisprudence. Justice Ginsburg was a trailblazer for women. She was a once-in-a-generation legal mind and a passionate champion for the rights of all Americans.”

“Under no circumstances should the Senate consider a replacement for Justice Ginsburg until after the presidential inauguration. Senator McConnell made his position clear in 2016 when he held Justice Scalia’s seat vacant for 10 months so he could deny President Obama an appointment – a goal he himself admitted. … To jam through a lifetime appointment to the country’s highest court – particularly to replace an icon like Justice Ginsburg – would be the height of hypocrisy.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

“The loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is [devastating]. Justice Ginsberg embodied justice, brilliance and goodness, and her passing is an incalculable loss for our democracy and for all who sacrifice and strive to build a better future for our children.”

“We must honor Justice Ginsburg’s trailblazing career and safeguard her powerful legacy by ensuring that the next Associate Justice of the Supreme Court upholds her commitment to equality, opportunity and justice for all. May it be a source of comfort to her children, Jane and James, her grandchildren Paul, Clara, Miranda and Abigail, and loved ones that so many people around the world mourn their loss and are praying for them at this sad time.”

Attorney General William Barr

“On behalf of the Department of Justice, I extend my deepest sympathy on the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Justice Ginsburg led one of the great lives in the history of American law.  She was a brilliant and successful litigator, an admired court of appeals judge, and a profoundly influential Supreme Court Justice.  For all her achievements in those roles, she will perhaps be remembered most for inspiring women in the legal profession and beyond.”

“She and I did not agree on every issue, but her legal ability, personal integrity, and determination were beyond doubt.  She leaves a towering legacy, and all who seek justice mourn her loss.” 

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

“Justice Ginsburg paved the way for so many women, including me. There will never be another like her. Thank you RBG.”

Sen. Mitt Romney

“Justice Ginsburg served our nation with a deep reverence for the law and our Constitution. Her fight for women’s equality inspired all women to pursue their dreams without limits, and her grit, character and sharp wit made her an iconic and inspirational jurist beloved by people young and old. The beautiful friendship she shared with the late Justice Scalia serves as a reminder to all Americans to treat each other with kindness and respect, despite our differences. Justice Ginsburg’s record of distinguished service leaves an indelible mark on our country that will endure for generations to come. She and her husband Martin shared a full life together, and Ann and I pray tonight that her family finds comfort during this time.”

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