Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivers remarks at the Georgetown Law Center on September 12, 2019, in Washington, DC.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87
05:06 - Source: CNN

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Former President Barack Obama on Friday paid tribute to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, calling on Senate Republicans to follow the precedent set when they refused to consider his Supreme Court nominee in 2016 and not consider a replacement for the high court until after the next president is sworn in.

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought to the end, through her cancer, with unwavering faith in our democracy and its ideals. That’s how we remember her. But she also left instructions for how she wanted her legacy to be honored,” Obama said in a statement of the liberal justice who died Friday at age 87.

Days before her death, Ginsburg told her granddaughter that her “most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” NPR reported.

Ginsburg’s death – and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s subsequent statement that “(President Donald) Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate” – opens up a political fight over the future of the court less than seven weeks before Election Day. The vacancy on the bench creates what many conservatives view as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to move the makeup of the court from its current split of five conservative justices and four liberal justices to a more dominant 6-3 majority.

Obama on Friday pointed to the precedent set by Republicans in 2016 when they refused to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, even though he had nominated Merrick Garland for the seat in March of that year – months before the presidential election.

McConnell – then the leader of the Senate, as he is now – insisted that not only would Garland not receive a full Senate floor vote but also that he would not even get a confirmation hearing in front of the Judiciary Committee, saying at the time that the “American people should have a say in the court’s direction.”

“Four and a half years ago, when Republicans refused to hold a hearing or an up-or-down vote on Merrick Garland, they invented the principle that the Senate shouldn’t fill an open seat on the Supreme Court before a new president was sworn in,” Obama said.

“A basic principle of the law – and of everyday fairness – is that we apply rules with consistency, and not based on what’s convenient or advantageous in the moment,” he continued. “The rule of law, the legitimacy of our courts, the fundamental workings of our democracy all depend on that basic principle. As votes are already being cast in this election, Republican Senators are now called to apply that standard.”

The issues before the court, the former President said, “are too consequential to future generations for courts to be filled through anything less than an unimpeachable process.”

Obama’s statement joined a chorus of Democrats, including Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden, mourning the late liberal justice and demanding that voters dictate the next president before her replacement is chosen.

“Tonight and in the coming days, we should focus on the loss of the justice, and her enduring legacy,” Biden told reporters Friday night after returning to Delaware from a campaign event. “But there is no doubt, let me be clear, that the voters should pick the president, and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider.”

Obama, in his statement, praised Ginsburg as a “warrior for gender equality” and “relentless litigator and an incisive jurist” who “helped us see that discrimination on the basis of sex isn’t about an abstract ideal of equality; that it doesn’t only harm women; that it has real consequences for all of us.”

“Justice Ginsburg inspired the generations who followed her, from the tiniest trick-or-treaters to law students burning the midnight oil to the most powerful leaders in the land,” Obama wrote. “Michelle and I admired her greatly, we’re profoundly thankful for the legacy she left this country, and we offer our gratitude and our condolences to her children and grandchildren tonight.”

CNN’s Caroline Kelly, Eric Bradner and Maeve Reston contributed to this report.