In February 2016, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died; this was 269 days before Election day. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted that since it was an election year, the seat be filled by the new president, not by then-president Barack Obama. His exact statement, from the New York Times, was “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”. Only this logic does not seem to apply today, with the election happening in less than 45 days. Hours after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG), on September 18, 2020, Mitch McConnell issued a statement promising that President Trump’s nominee would receive a vote on the Senate floor. I guess in 2020 the voice of the American people does not seem to matter to Mitch McConnell.
Justice Ginsburg was a political giant and a cultural icon. She spent her career advocating for women and eliminating gender stereotypes in legislation. She persevered through life-altering events and continued to work through circumstances most of us would not have been able to, including the death of her husband Marty in 2010 and numerous health issues. When you think of a strong woman, RBG should come into mind.
What is so heartbreaking about Justice Ginsburg’s passing is that one of the reasons she continued to work was because she knew that no liberal or even moderate justice would have been voted in by a Republican-led Senate. And she was not wrong; look at Merrick Garland. He is a judge with a moderate record, well-liked by both sides and was President Obama’s nomination in 2016 to fill Justice Scalia’s seat. His nomination fell well within the appropriate time for Obama to fill the vacancy. Garland did not even get a hearing from the Senate.
Trump has already replaced two justices, now that Justice Ginsburg has passed away, SCOTUS has the potential of becoming a 6-3 conservative majority. This could mean the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the overturning of the Affordable Care Act and other progressive rulings. The rush to fill her seat is because of the power that the Supreme Court has. The Court is an appeals court and sets a precedent for lower courts to follow. Justices are sworn-in for life, and therefore a president’s influence can last for significantly longer than their term. Republicans want to fill the Court with as many conservative justices as possible because they know that Trump has done a significant amount of damage to their party. Just as the presidency is up for reelection, so are many Senate seats, which could result in the Democrats becoming the majority. Having right-wing justices gives Republicans a lot of power, even if they end up being the minority party in Congress.
As sad and absurd as it is, there is a possibility that Trump will be able to fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat; nevermind that it goes against her last wish. If Biden wins and Democrats take the Senate, there is a possibility that the party could pack the Supreme Court, meaning expanding the seats on the Court as the Constitution left the number up to Congress. But that is a radical move most party leaders are against, as it has its failings.
Justice Ginsburg was committed to the people and justice; it was her life’s work “To make life a little better for people less fortunate than you; that is what I think a meaningful life is. One lives not just for oneself but for one's community” (CNN). As citizens, we can follow her dedication by voting, protesting, treating others with kindness and fighting for the rights we deserve.