Ruth Bader Ginsburg during her confirmation hearing before the Senate judiciary committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 20 1993. Picture: REUTERS/GARY HERSHOM
Ruth Bader Ginsburg during her confirmation hearing before the Senate judiciary committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 20 1993. Picture: REUTERS/GARY HERSHOM

Washington — Grief-stricken Americans gathered at makeshift memorials around the country on Saturday to mourn US supreme court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal, feminist icon, as President Donald Trump signalled his intention to fill the vacancy weeks before a heated election.

Mourners heralded Ginsburg’s groundbreaking legal career and expressed dark worries about the future of the country. Democratic Party vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris and her husband, Douglas Emhoff, joined crowds outside the 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 with a photo of the visit. “The stakes of this election couldn’t be higher,” she added.

Some on the supreme court steps clutched candles, flowers and signs or held young children. Others appeared in running and biking clothes, on a detour from their morning exercise.

Ginsburg, 87, died on Friday night from pancreatic cancer. Trump now has a chance to expand the US top court’s conservative majority as a presidential election looms at a time of deep divisions in America.

Candlelight tributes to Ginsburg started on Friday evening and continued through the weekend, and a fierce political fight kicked off as hundreds protested outside Republican US 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 judge 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 judge Antonin Scalia died 10 months before a presidential election, saying it was too close to voting day.

“Don’t be a hypocrite,” said protester Steve Tonnemacher.

Republicans narrowly control the Senate with 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 McConell, 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.”

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 honour her legacy, to fight for a fair court and to continue to protect women’s rights.”

Feminist activists fear that a third judge 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 channelled her grief by making a poster encouraging motorists to honk in honour 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 e-mail 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 on 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.” Reuters

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