Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a champion for women's rights, dies at 87

Ginsburg, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993, wrote landmark opinions that advanced gender equality and rights for disabled Americans and immigrants.
10:42 | 09/19/20

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Transcript for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a champion for women's rights, dies at 87
We begin tonight with the outpouring of tributes to an American pioneer, associate supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passing away tonight from complications from pancreatic cancer, and at the steps of the supreme court this evening, take a look. Hundreds of people with candles and flowers gathering to mourn the death of this titan of justice. Ginsburg, only the second woman to serve on the high court, now more on the legacy of justice Ginsburg, juju Chang. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks. Reporter: Barely 5 feet tall, but a liberal giant. Only the second female justice named on the supreme court, serving there for more than a quarter century. Her path to the highest court in the land was not easy, as one of the few women at Harvard law school, she faced discrimination after graduating from Columbia in the '50s. Her tenaciousness highlighted in "Rbg", produced by Julie Cohen and Betsy west. She was one of five women. And the big law firms just weren't hiring women. Not a law firm in the entire city of New York bid for my employment. Reporter: Charging forward, she became a beloved law professor at Rutgers and worked as a lawyer for the aclu and mapped out a legal strategy to file lawsuits against gender bias in employment, housing and government benefits. Men and women are persons of equal dignity, and they should count equally before the law. You won't settle for putting Susan B. Anthony on the new dollar? They would say things like this, how did you respond? Well, never in anger. As my mother told me. That's, that would have been self-defeating. Always as an opportunity to teach. I did see myself as kind of a kindergarten teacher in those days. Because the judges didn't think sex discrimination existed. Well, one of the things I try to plant in their minds was, think about how you would like the world to be for your daughters and granddaughters. Reporter: She won five landmark cases, which she argued on behalf of women in front of an all-male bench, long before she sat on it. Ginsburg went on to serve as an appeals court judge in the nation's capital, until that life-changing nomination by president Bill Clinton in 1993. I am proud to nominate judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Reporter: That might never have happened if not for the lobbying of a staunch feminist, her husband. He felt she deserved it and would be good for the country. Reporter: And at her confirmation hearing, chaired by Joe Biden, the nominee did not shy away from feminism, spotlighting topics like abortion rights. This is something central to a woman's life, to her dignity. It's a decision that she must make. Reporter: The senate confirmed her in a sweeping 96-3 vote. She began quickly making her mark on historic cases. She's perhaps best known for a decision in 1996 that struck down a male-only admissions policy at the Virginia military institute, opening the door for women to study there. It's justice Ginsburg writing an opinion that lawyer Ginsberg helped to lay. I know there were some people who did not react well to the change. And my response to this was, you will be proud of the women who become graduates." Reporter: And in a landmark case on employment discrimination in 2007, Ginsburg wrote a powerful dissent that prompted congress to amend the laws, named for the woman who filed the claim, the lily Ledbetter fair pay act became one of the first pieces of legislation signed into law by president Obama. While on the supreme court, justice Ginsburg was a consistently liberal voice on issues like abortion, voting rights and the separation of church and state. Off the bench, she was the first supreme court justice to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony. Her tenure was not without controversy when she spoke out against then candidate Donald Trump, including to the "New York Times," calling him a quote, faker, saying I can't imagine what the country would be with Donald Trump as our president. Ginsburg later adding that her comments were, quote, ill-advised and that she regretted making them, but throughout it all, justice Ginsberg won the respect of many conservatives with her grasp of the law and carefully-crafted opinions. And as the court shifted to the right her scathing dissents elevated her to a pop culture icon, inspiring legions of young fans and feminists and fitness routines, earning her the nickname notorious rbg, her fame, her fashion statements, her collars becoming her calling card. This is what I use for majority opinions. This one is for dissenting opinions. Reporter: She was also a devoted mother to her two children. Jane and James. Is she really such a horrible cook? Yes. To this day I can't eat sword fish after what she did to it. It wasn't until I was 14 that I encountered a live vegetable. Ruth is no longer permitted in the kitchen. This by the demand of our children, who have taste. Reporter: Tonight, politicians, colleagues and friends honoring the late justice. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton tweeting, justice Ginsburg paved the way for so many women, including me. There will never be another like her. Thank you, rbg. And former president George W. Bush putting out a statement saying she dedicated many of her 87 remarkable years to the pursuit of justice and equality. President trump leaving a campaign rally also paying tribute. She was an amazing woman, whether you agreed or not, she was an amazing woman who led an amazing life. Reporter: His opponent, former vice president Joe Biden remembering the justice he helped confirm. She has been absolutely consistent and reliable and a voice for, for freedom and opportunity for everyone. Reporter: But he also previewed what will surely become a fierce political Let me be clear. That the voters should pick the president, and the president should pick the justice for the senate to consider. Reporter: But senate majority leader Mitch Mcconnell has already said in a statement tonight, president trump's nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States senate. A furious fight over her seat for an already-divided nation. Tonight, crowds gathered on the steps of the supreme court to mourn justice Ginsburg, who fought throughout her career in the name of justice, leaving a legacy of majority opinions and powerful dissents for generations to come. Our thanks to juju. I'm now joined by Betsy west, co-director of the documentary, "Rbg" and professor at the Columbia school. You spent a lot of time with her, what will you remember about her most? You know, justice Ginsburg was a tiny woman, but very intimidating. When, when you first met her. Very soft-spoken in a way, very thoughtful, but I think, I came to realize was number one, what an amazing sense of humor she had, how wonderfully thoughtful she was. And I think, overall, mayim pregs was, over the years her determination, you know. She was one feisty gal. What will be her greatest legacy on the court you think? Well, look, even if she had not become the second woman to serve on the United States supreme court, she had already earned a place in history for what she did to win equality for American women. As a young litigator, arguing a series of cases that really opened the eyes of the male establishmen that suddenly there were decisions which were really making the constitutional protections apply to women. And then later to lgbtq people. She was a towering figure in the courts and in the public fascination. What was it about her that struck a chord that was so compelling and for so many people made her so cool? Yeah, I just think it was kind of, you know, funny in a way. Here was this tiny, grandmother who was speaking truth to power. Who just was not afraid to say what she thought. And that, that appealed to all generations, I think, of just seeing her stick up for what she called "We the people." To expand the definition of "We the people", to include women and minorities to be covered by our constitutional protections. People were very taken by that. Betsy west, thank you so much for your time and thank you four that powerful documentary. Thank you, Byron.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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