The U.S. Supreme Court Friday night said that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died of metastatic pancreatic cancer at age 87, leaving a vacancy on the high court ahead of a presidential election and another test of the Affordable Care Act's viability.
Ginsburg, the longest-serving liberal justice on the court, was a key figure in several healthcare-related Supreme Court decisions. She was part of the majority that upheld the Affordable Care Act as a tax and separately ruled the law's individual mandate was constitutional. Those decisions will come under scrutiny as the justices once again consider the law's future one week after the Nov. 3 election.
President Donald Trump faces the third Supreme Court vacancy of his term. The first, created by Antonin Scalia's death in 2016 and filled by Neil Gorsuch in 2017, predated his election. The Senate's Republican majority refused to confirm Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, citing the election year. A shortlist of names Trump has floated includes several opponents to the ACA.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell late Friday issued a statement saying, "President Trump's nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate."
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted that 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."
In an interview prior to news of Ginsburg's death, Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski told Alaska Public Media that she would not vote to confirm a nominee before the election. She said the 2016 vote for Garland was too close to an election and "the people need to decide."
It takes 51 votes to confirm a Supreme Court nominee; there are 53 Republican senators.
Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993 by Bill Clinton and became an icon for American liberalism and women's rights. She penned decisions on abortion rights, same-sex marriage and healthcare.
Ginsburg long resisted calls to step down from the bench, saying she would serve until no longer able. She previously told the press she didn't believe President Barack Obama would be able to get a "satisfactory successor" confirmed to the Supreme Court.
In another Affordable Care Act-related case regarding the law's contraception mandate, Ginsburg wrote a dissent worrying about how an individual's or corporate owner's religious rights could affect the healthcare of hundreds of thousands of workers. She warned that the court had not provided guidance on resolving those disputes and that it could prevent workers from receiving coverage for antidepressants, blood transfusions or even vaccinations.
"The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield," she wrote in the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby dissent.
In 2002, Ginsburg also joined the majority in Rush Prudential HMO v. Moran that determined states can review medical claims denied by insurers. The case involved a physician-prescribed treatment being denied by an HMO and upheld Illinois' medical review law.