Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Dead At 87

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ginsburg, who was once passed over for a clerkship on the Supreme Court because of her gender, was the second woman to sit on the nation’s highest court.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal icon who served on the Supreme Court since 1993 and who crusaded for women’s rights before that, died on Friday at the age of 87.

Ginsburg died from complications of cancer, according to the Supreme Court. She died Friday evening surrounded by her family at her home in Washington. 

The justice dictated a statement to her granddaughter in the days before her death, NPR reported. Ginsburg said: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement: “Our nation has lost a justice 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.”

Ginsburg, who was treated for colon cancer in 1999 and for pancreatic cancer in 2011, ignored calls to step down from the Supreme Court as she got older. In May, she was hospitalized for treatment for a gall bladder condition, and again in July for a possible infection. In August 2019, she successfully completed three weeks of radiation treatment after a tumor was discovered in her pancreas. The previous December, she had surgery to remove two malignant nodules in her lung, causing her to miss her first oral arguments since joining the court. She continued working through her recovery, including casting a vote from her hospital bed.

Ginsburg, who was once passed over for a clerkship on the Supreme Court because of her gender, was the second woman to sit on the nation’s highest court after Sandra Day O’Connor, and the first Jewish woman to do so. President Bill Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court in 1993 after she had served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 1980. From 2006 until 2009, she was the only woman on the Supreme Court.

Ginsburg’s opinions for the court were influential, regardless of whether she was writing for the majority or dissenting. In the 2007 case Lilly Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., for example, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a woman could not sue her former employer for paying her male counterparts more than her because she had not filed suit claiming discrimination within a 180-day period required by law. In an opinion joined by three other justices, dissented vociferously, arguing that such a requirement was nonsensical because it might take a female employee longer than 180 days to find out that she was being paid less than her male counterparts. In her dissent, Ginsburg directly appealed to Congress to change the law.

In 2009, Congress did just that and passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law that year. The law said that after each new paycheck, employees had a new 180-day period to file for discrimination. 

Ginsburg wrote forcefully on a number of cases that directly impacted women. In 1996, she wrote the majority opinion in a case in which the court ruled that the Virginia Military Institute’s policy of only admitting men violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution. She also wrote powerful dissents in Gonzales v. Carhart, in which the court upheld a federal ban on so-called “partial-birth” abortions, and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties, which allowed closely held corporations to refuse to provide certain contraceptive coverage to employees for religious reasons.

“Women, it is now acknowledged, have the talent, capacity, and right ‘to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation. Their ability to realize their full potential, the Court recognized, is intimately connected to their ability to control their reproductive lives,’” Ginsburg wrote in her dissent in Gonzales v. Carhart. “Thus, legal challenges to undue restrictions on abortion procedures do not seek to vindicate some generalized notion of privacy; rather, they center on a woman’s autonomy to determine her life’s course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature.”

Even though she was small in stature, her toughness and hard workout routine, combined with her fierce rhetoric, earned her the nickname “Notorious R.B.G.” ― something in which she seemed to take great pleasure.

Born Ruth Joan Bader in Brooklyn, New York, in 1933, Ginsburg earned her B.A. from Cornell University, where she met her future husband, Martin Ginsburg. The two married in 1954, the same year Ginsburg graduated from college. Ginsburg then enrolled at Harvard Law School, where she was one of nine women in a class of 500 and cared for her daughter while completing her coursework. After two years at Harvard, Ginsburg finished her degree at Columbia University after Martin received a job in New York. Even though she had completed most of her coursework at Harvard, the law school dean there reportedly refused to grant her a degree, so she earned her law degree from Columbia, where she tied for valedictorian. Harvard eventually gave Ginsburg an honorary degree in 2011.

Despite her qualifications, Ginsburg was unable to find work after she graduated from law school in 1959. A Harvard dean even sent a letter to Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter recommending Ginsburg as a law clerk, but the justice replied that while he was impressed by Ginsburg, he simply was not ready to hire a woman.

Ginsburg eventually secured a clerkship with a federal judge in New York and went on to teach at Rutgers Law School before becoming the first female tenured professor at Columbia in 1972. That same year, she founded the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, and from 1972 to 1980 she served as general counsel for the ACLU, a role in which she pushed courts to strike down laws that discriminated on the basis of sex.

In the early 1970s, Ginsburg authored the ACLU legal brief for a Supreme Court case on behalf of an Idaho woman claiming that a state law that gave men preference in becoming the administrator of an estate after a family member died was unconstitutional. Ginsburg argued that the law violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, which entitles all persons to “equal protection” under all laws, because it treated men and women differently. The Supreme Court agreed with Ginsburg in the case, called Reed v. Reed, and ruled in favor of the woman, 7-0. It was the first time the court had applied the 14th Amendment to determine discrimination on the basis of sex.

As a litigator, Ginsburg took an incremental approach before the Supreme Court. She carefully chose cases and plaintiffs toward which she thought the justices ― all men ― were likely to be sympathetic. In one case, for example, Ginsburg successfully convinced the Supreme Court that an Oklahoma law that allowed women to buy alcohol at age 18 but forced men to wait until they were 21 was unconstitutional. In the opinion in the case, called Craig v. Boren, the Court established an “intermediate scrutiny” standard for gender discrimination laws, meaning that the state had to prove that the law furthered an “important government interest” in a way that was “substantially related to that interest.”

When he nominated her to the Supreme Court in 1993, Clinton noted the profound legacy that Ginsburg brought to the bench.

“Throughout her life she has repeatedly stood for the individual, the person less well-off, the outsider in society, and has given those people greater hope by telling them that they have a place in our legal system, by giving them a sense that the Constitution and the laws protect all the American people, not simply the powerful,” Clinton said.

While she was a crusader for women in front of the Supreme Court, Ginsburg was critical of the court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that struck down a Texas law prohibiting abortion and established a constitutional right to an abortion. While Ginsburg supported a woman’s right to choose, she said the court in Roe went “too far, too fast” and lent fuel to the anti-abortion movement. Instead of ruling broadly in Roe, Ginsburg said, the Supreme Court should have taken a narrower approach, striking down the Texas law in question and allowing states to build on political momentum and pass laws that protected access to abortions.

Despite her status as one of the court’s more liberal justices, one of her best friends on the Supreme Court was her ideological opposite: Justice Antonin Scalia. While the two could forcefully disagree with one another in opinions that they authored for the Supreme Court, they shared a mutual love of opera, and even had an opera written about them.

Ginsburg’s husband of 56 years, Martin, died in 2010. She is survived by two children and four grandchildren. 

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Russia working to help reelect President Trump, FBI chief says

Russia is mounting “very active efforts” to interfere with the U.S. election to benefit President Trump, FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress on Thursday.

Unlike their activities during the 2016 presidential election, the Russians do not seem to be using their cyber capabilities to target the U.S. election infrastructure, according to Wray. Instead, the Kremlin’s approach is one of “malign foreign influence,” with Russia utilizing “social media, use of proxies, state media, online journals, etc.,” he told a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Without mentioning Trump by name, the FBI director said Russia’s actions represent “an effort to both sow divisiveness and discord and … to denigrate Vice President [Joe] Biden and what the Russians see as kind of an anti-Russian establishment.”

Biden is Trump’s Democratic opponent in the upcoming election.

Among numerous concerns regarding election security, Wray said his biggest was that “the steady drumbeat of misinformation” as well as the “amplification of smaller cyber intrusions” would lead Americans to lose confidence “in the validity of their vote.” If that were to happen, “that would be a perception, not a reality,” he added. “Americans can and should have confidence in our election system.”

Christopher Wray

During the hearing, Wray also addressed continuing concerns about domestic terrorism.

He said the number of domestic terrorism investigations the FBI is conducting this year is “a good bit” higher than the usual figure of about 1,000. 

While those figures include everything from “racially motivated violent extremists to violent anarchist extremists [and] militia types,” in recent years white supremacists had been responsible for more lethal domestic violence than any other single category of extremist, he said.

As a result, in 2019 the FBI “elevated racially motivated violent extremism” to the same threat priority level as homegrown jihadist extremism and the Islamic State, Wray said.

However, so far this year, “the domestic terrorism lethal attacks we’ve had have all fit in the category of ‘antigovernment, anti-authority,’ which covers everything from anarchist violent extremists to militia types,” he said.

White nationalists, neo-Nazis, the KKK and members of the "alt-right"

Much of the hearing was dominated by discussions about which domestic threat was greater — that posed by white supremacists or that posed by followers of Black Lives Matter and the antifascist movement known as antifa.

Wray resisted Republicans’ repeated efforts to persuade him to adopt their characterization of antifa as an organization, rather than his preferred choice of words. “It’s not a group or an organization,” he said. “It’s a movement or an ideology.”

But Wray sought to balance his comments, noting that the FBI is currently investigating numerous “violent anarchist extremists” who self-identify with antifa. “Antifa is a real thing,” he said. “It’s not a fiction.” Indeed, the FBI is “actively investigating the potential for violence” from such individuals who have coalesced into “regional nodes” associated with antifa, he said.

By contrast, when asked whether he was aware of “any excessive violence” that could be attributed to Black Lives Matter, Wray said he could not think of a single example. 

He added that the FBI has seen cases of “racially motivated” Black defendants who targeted law enforcement, but “whether any of those cases involved some reference to Black Lives Matter, sitting here right now I can’t recall one.”

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Latino Voters Are Joe Biden's Problem – and Maybe His Solution

Democrats are nervous over recent polling showing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris trailing Donald Trump in Florida.

The Associated Press

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a Hispanic Heritage Month event, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee, Fla. 

JOE BIDEN IS IN BIG trouble with Latino voters.

Or is he?

Some recent polling in Florida sent Democrats into frantic hand-wringing over what appears to be tepid support for the Democratic nominee in a battleground state and with a voter group that has been reliably Democratic in previous election cycles. An NBC/Marist poll showed President Donald Trump ahead of Biden among Latinos in the Sunshine State, 50%-46%; the same poll had Democrat Hillary Clinton beating Trump by 23 percentage points among Florida Hispanics in 2016. A separate poll had Trump slightly ahead of Biden among Hispanics in heavily Democratic Miami-Dade County.

Biden up two-thirds over Trump among Jewish voters, survey reveals.
Biden was in Kissimmee, Florida Tuesday night to make an appeal to Latinos and celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.

"Donald Trump has done nothing but assault the dignity of Hispanic families, over and over and over again," Biden said, referencing the separation of immigrant families at the border and Trump's paper towel-throwing display to victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Biden pledged to help Puerto Rico with its crumbling infrastructure and crippling debt.

"The Hispanic community holds in their hand the destiny of this country," Biden said. "It's true – you can decide the direction of this country," he said. "Look me over, again," he added, an indication of Democratic concerns of the former vice president's showing among Latinos with less than two months to go before the election.

The numbers alarmed Democrats, who took notice of Biden's poor showing among Hispanics in the Democratic primaries (when Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont was still running) and fear a lackluster showing in the general election could cost Biden Florida and endanger his lead in other states as well.

But a closer look at the numbers indicates Biden's Latino problem is Florida-specific. In other states with substantial Hispanic populations, Biden is faring well and could flip at least one state blue because of Hispanic voters.

Colorado, where the Republican presidential nominee has won every year from 1972-2004, except in 1992, is now not even considered a battleground state – largely because Hispanic voters have trended towards Democrats, experts on Latinos voters say. A Public Policy Polling survey in July showed Biden with three-to-one support (66% to 22%) among Latinos, compared to Trump.

New Mexico, which voted for the Republican for president as recently as 2004, is also considered firmly in Biden's corner, largely because of the growth of the Hispanic population. The demographic now accounts for nearly half of New Mexico's population, according to the nonpartisan group USA Facts.

Nevada is still in play, but Biden is favored in the Silver State, where a growing Latino population (29%, according to USAFacts) tends to vote more Dem

Meanwhile, Democrats are eyeing two possible pickups – Arizona and Texas – where Hispanic voters heavily favor Biden and could make a definitive difference in the states. In Arizona, where a Democratic presidential nominee has won only once (in 1996) since 1972, Biden is leading Trump overall in most polls and is ahead among Latinos, 62% to 29%, according to a recent poll by Equis Research. That's one percentage point better than Hillary Clinton did in the state in 2016.

Texas, where Biden and Trump are virtually tied in many polls, is considered a longer shot for Biden; while the state's changing demographics offer an opportunity, it's a big and expensive state in which to invest. But Lone Star State Democrats are bullish – and they credit their high hopes to a Latino population overwhelmingly favoring Biden in polls. A Public Policy Polling survey earlier this month has Biden ahead of Trump among Latinos, 71% to 23%.

"We're seeing Latinos in droves going against Donald Trump," says Abhi Rahman, spokesman for the state Democratic party. "Joe Biden is a man of faith, and a man of character, and that's resonating" among Latinos, many of whom are Catholic, he adds.

Texas Latinos, who make up 40% of the state population, are mostly Mexican-American, and were insulted by Trump's characterization of them in 2016 as "criminals" and "rapists," Rahman says. The president's border wall plans are unpopular with Texas Latinos, he adds, noting that Mexico is Texas's biggest trading partner.

The state party is doing a "massive Latino outreach" program to register Hispanics, he says. "We feel very good about where we're at."

Perennial battleground Florida is a more gettable state for Democrats than Texas, but it's also a more complicated strategic equation, when it comes to winning over Hispanic voters.

The state has a diverse group of Latinos, including Cuban-Americans (who tend to be more conservative and GOP-leaning), Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans and other Latin Americans.

The Trump campaign has sought to cast Biden as a tool of "socialists," a message that could damage the Democrat among Latinos whose families fled socialist or communist regimes in Cuba, Nicaragua or Venezuela. Puerto Ricans are a more reliably Democratic voter group, but they do not have the same history with the party as, for example, African Americans.

In Florida, it's critical to make separate appeals to different Hispanic populations, says Simon Rosenberg, who helped develop the Democrats' national Hispanic policy when he worked on Bill Clinton's campaign. The campaign spent $3 million on ads targeting Hispanic voters, with three separate audiences – Puerto Rican, Cuban and Venezuelan – with different Spanish accents narrating them, he says.

While Biden does not need Florida to secure the presidency, a Democratic win in the state would virtually ensure a Biden presidency. Further, since the state is expected to report all its ballots on Election Night, a Biden win in the state would, elections analysts believe, result in the race being called for the former vice president, even if other states are still counting absentee ballots.

Even if Biden wins the Hispanic vote overall – as he is expected to do – a swing of just a few percentage points toward Trump could flip a state, and with it, the election, notes Chuck Rocha, a Democratic consultant and former Sanders campaign strategist whose book, "Tio Bernie," lays out how Sanders won the Latino vote in the primaries.

"We never learn from our mistakes," Rocha says, referring to what many Democrats see as lost opportunities to persuade and turn out Hispanic voters. Biden will probably spend more than either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton on Latino outreach, but "it needs to be ten times that" to achieve an overwhelming Biden win, Rocha says.

For example, one recent poll has Biden faring better than the surveys done by Marist and by the Miami Herald of Miami-Dade voters. The survey, released Tuesday by Monmouth University, has Biden getting 58% support among Florida Latinos, with 32% choosing Trump – a healthy lead, and a single percentage point worse than the 2016 spread between Trump and Clinton. But that year, Clinton lost Florida by 1.2 percentage points, ensuring Trump's ascension to the White House. Small margins, Hispanic vote analysts warn, have big consequences.

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