Despite Republican opportunism, Ginsburg’s death is a tragedy

A vigil to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Courtesy of Gayatri Malhotra via Unsplash

On Sept. 18, liberal America lost one of its greatest icons when Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed after a long fight against pancreatic cancer. From the left to the center, Americans mourned the loss of a feminist advocate and Democratic legend. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and their Republican allies wasted no time assuring their base that they would push through a Trump nominee to replace Ginsburg prior to the presidential election. On Friday night, in the same breath acknowledging Justice Ginsburg’s passing, McConnell declared, “Once again, we will keep our promise. President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,” directly against Ginsburg’s dying wishes, an action that sadly comes as no surprise from a leading member of Trump’s Republican Party. 

We faced a similar situation in 2016, the final year of Barack Obama’s presidency, when Justice Antonin Scalia died 11 months before the election. Immediately following Scalia’s death, McConnell stated, “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.” Other Republican senators made similar remarks in order to block Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the vacancy left by Justice Scalia. “I want you to use my words against me,” Lindsay Graham dared the public in a 2016 statement that a vote should not take place on Scalia’s successor until after the presidential election—implying that if a similar situation arose in 2020 with a Republican president, he would hold his position and demand delaying a vote on a Supreme Court Justice until after the coming presidential election. 

Despite the hard, faux-moralistic stance McConnell, Graham and their fellow Republicans took in order to disguise their corrupt partisan agenda, they have now all reneged on their promises, rallying behind Trump and his efforts to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett. The false sincerity of their words in 2016 has come to light. Their absence of integrity leads them to place their party before any semblance of ethics.

If the Republicans are able to push through a vote for Amy Coney Barrett before the upcoming presidential election in just 33 days, as they say they are going to, they would be establishing a strong and lengthy legacy for President Trump. This degree of rightward swing would result in the most conservative-leaning Supreme Court since at least 1950. Yes, though it appears Trump has already pushed the Court further right by placing two justices on the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch both filled previously conservative seats. By contrast, a Trump nominee taking Ginsburg’s seat would establish long-lasting conservative rule on the Court. Such a conservative majority may force the hand of future Democratic administrations to increase the number of justices, a controversial and norm defying move. The bar to do this would be low: the cooperation between a Democratic president and a simple majority in the Senate. 

Progressives have of late criticized people for idealizing Ginsburg and mourning her loss, noting that she did not benefit Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities as much as she did white women and the LGBTQ community. In a Washington Post op-ed titled “The flaw in the cult of RBG,” Alyssa Rosenberg found fault with the idealization of a Supreme Court Justice, claiming, “Turning public servants into cultural icons inverts the proper relationship between citizens and the officials who are supposed to work for them.” Rosenberg argues that a position with such immense power outside the realms of external accountability should demand more scrutiny, not less. So the far left criticizes those of us who mourn her loss by claiming we shouldn’t idolize her. Yes, Ginsburg was at times tone-deaf and insensitive––some may recall that she initially called Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the national anthem “dumb and disrespectful (a mistake for which she later apologized)––but if Republicans place a conservative justice in Ginsburg’s seat, we will be stuck with conservative rulings from the bench for years to come. The Supreme Court will no longer be a place with any semblance of representing the majority opinion of the American people (five out of nine of the justices will have been nominated by presidents who did not win by popular vote), but rather a hotbed for conservative ideology and an avenue for backing the new Trumpian Republican Party’s agenda. 

So yes, let’s acknowledge that Ginsburg was not a perfect Supreme Court Justice and wish for someone with a deeper understanding of the complexity of issues the BIPOC communities face—but don’t discount the severity of this loss on that account. Democrats must do everything in their power, be it bush-league delay tactics or impeaching Bill Barr, to prevent Republicans from pushing through a Trump nomination. If Democrats fail in blocking this premature vote, but Biden wins in November and the Senate flips, they must vote to expand the Supreme Court’. We cannot afford 25 years of a Trumpian legacy. The lives of immigrant families are on the line. Roe v. Wade and women’s rights to bodily autonomy are on the line. Critical environmental regulations are on the line. We have to fight to restore the jurisprudential power of the Supreme Court and ensure that it does not become a long-term hotspot for the Trumpian Republican Party. 

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