WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Grief-stricken Americans gathered at makeshift memorials around the country on Saturday to mourn the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal, feminist icon, as President Donald Trump signaled his intention to fill the vacancy weeks before a heated election.
Mourners heralded Ginsburg’s groundbreaking legal career and expressed dark worries about the country’s direction. Democratic Party vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris and her husband, Douglas Emhoff, joined crowds outside the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Saturday morning.
Ginsburg was “a titan – a relentless defender of justice and a legal mind for the ages,” Harris wrote in a tweet https://twitter.com/KamalaHarris/status/1307328451343515648 with a photo of the visit. “The stakes of this election couldn’t be higher,” she added.
Visitors to the Supreme Court left flowers and signs during the day, many with young children in tow. By Saturday evening the crowd swelled to fill the street in front of the courthouse. Mourners listened to an a capella group sing “A Change Is Gonna Come,” the civil rights era anthem, and to speakers including Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Amanda Dym, an 18-year old college student, she’d known about the “notorious RBG,” was when she was younger, but didn’t realize how much work she’d done for women’s rights until she saw a documentary about the judge’s life. “I don’t know where the country would be without her,” she said, adding that she was “scared for the future of our democracy.”
Ginsburg, 87, died on Friday night from pancreatic cancer. Trump now has a chance to expand the U.S. top court’s conservative majority as a presidential election looms at a time of deep divisions in America.
Candlelight tributes to Ginsburg started Friday evening and are expected to continue through the weekend. Hundreds also protested outside Republican U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home in Louisville, Kentucky, on Saturday.
On Friday, McConnell said the Senate would vote on any replacement nominated by Trump. The Republican president now has a chance to appoint his third justice and give the court a 6-3 conservative majority.
Protesters noted that in 2016, McConnell refused to act on Democratic President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, after conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died 10 months before a presidential election, saying it was too close to voting day.
“Don’t be a hypocrite,” said protestor Steve Tonnemacher.
Republicans narrowly control the Senate with a 53 of 100 members, and Democrats need a simple majority vote to stop any Supreme Court nominee.
Demonstrators chanted “Ruth sent us,” and “Ditch Mitch.” Protester Carol Edelen blasted McConnell saying “He will not advocate for any of our issues and to use this occasion to push his agenda, his power forward, is just unacceptable, just totally unacceptable.”
GINSBURG’S DEATH AS WAKE UP CALL
Sheila Katz, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women in Washington, said she was moved to hear the blowing of many shofars – the traditional ram’s horn used to herald the start of the new year – at a vigil for Ginsburg at the Supreme Court on Friday evening.
“It’s a literal wake-up call to the Jewish people that we need to work together, and better ourselves,” said Katz. “We cannot simply mourn Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We must take action to honor her legacy, to fight for a fair court and to continue to protect women’s rights.”
Feminist activists fear that a third justice picked by Trump would give the court’s conservative majority a better chance of overturning Roe vs. Wade, the landmark decision holding that a woman has a constitutional right to abortion.
Hollywood celebrities paid tribute online. “I am heartbroken,” actor Jennifer Lopez wrote on Instagram. “She was a true champion of gender equality and was a strong woman for me and all the little girls of the world to look up to.”
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, Cynthia Enloe channeled her grief by making a poster encouraging motorists to honk in honor of the pioneer of women’s rights, and stood at a busy intersection on Saturday morning.
“When I heard the terrible news of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death last night, my first thoughts and all my friends on email and text was, ‘This is horrible, it cannot get worse,'” Enloe told Reuters. “But then I thought, they want us to get depressed, and I thought I will do the opposite of being depressed. I will go out and make a poster and stand at the intersection and let people honk their support.”
A trailblazing women’s rights lawyer before she joined the court in 1993, Ginsburg – popularly known by her initials RBG – emerged as an unlikely pop icon in recent years, her image emblazoned on coffee mugs, T-shirts and children’s books.
In New York, an image of Ginsburg and the alternating messages “thank you” and “rest in power” were projected on the front of the New York State Civil Supreme Court building in Manhattan. Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled plans Saturday to erect a statue of Ginsburg in New York City’s Brooklyn borough where she was born.
More than 200 mourners held a candlelight vigil in San Francisco on Friday night and marched through the city’s Castro district. They carried a large sign that said “We won’t let you down RBG.”
(Reporting by Andy Sullivan and Lucia Mutikani in Washington, Brian Snyder in Boston, Bryan Woolston in Louisville and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Scott Malone, Heather Timmons, Matthew Lewis, David Gregorio and Michael Perry)