By Harold Rook
Welp, its election season, and do you know what that means? Yep, time to be bombarded with ad after ad about how Donald Trump or Joe Biden are either the coming Messiah or worse than Saddam Hussein! Maybe if you’re astute with the political goings-on, you may even be following local and Congressional races across the country. Of course, if you are like me, you’re about to see your preferred presidential candidate Jo Jorgenson get 5% of the total vote, with very few candidates in your local races sharing your goals for the country. However, there is another race going on, although we certainly get no vote in the matter; recently, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg passed away, leaving an open seat. And, within the following week, we already have a replacement nominated by Trump: Amy Coney Barrett. Needless to say, this rather hasty nomination has everyone spinning, leading to questions of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s legacy and Barrett’s ascension. What are the political implications of this nomination?
First, a bit of history on Justice Ginsberg. Ginsburg first began her career working under a clerkship in New York, eventually rising through the ranks to teach constitutional law at Rutgers Law School. Following a brief stint working in Sweden, Ginsburg would challenge many notions held in the 1960s regarding gender inequality, becoming the first female tenured professor of law at Columbia Law School, making it her goal to expand women’s rights across the United States. One of her first moves to do this was by creating the Women’s Rights Project, gaining enough attention to have President Jimmy Carter position her as a judge in the US Court of Appeals in the D.C. circuit. Here, through work on cases such as Weinberg vs. Wiesenfeld, Ginsburg began championing the elimination of discrimination of women in public sectors such as social security, gaining her the attention of President Bill Clinton. Impressed by her abilities, and having an empty justice seat thanks to the retirement of Kennedy-era justice Byron White, Clinton would officially grant Ginsburg the judicial robes on August 3rd, 1993.
Her time on the bench can best be described as the dissonant voice from a liberal perspective; though nominated by President Bill Clinton, Ginsberg soon found herself often in the minority following the ascension of conservative colleagues to the Court. One example of this was through her dissent opinion of Ledbetter vs. Goodyear, arguing that those subjected to employment discrimination should not face limits to back pay. Additionally, she also dissented in the decision of Bush vs. Gore, the decision that decided the fate of the 2000 election. In the dissent statement, Ginsburg defied majority opinion and argued for the need to recognize “our system of dual sovereignty,” referring to the Florida Supreme Court. Mind you, though these dissents certainly were powerful, they didn’t actually change the court decision, and weren’t without detractors. For example, her dissent regarding Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby is one that I vehemently disagree with (the decision of the case was that specific for-profit companies can refuse to cover birth control for religious reasons. She asked: “Where does it stop?” I answer: “To the point of personal responsibility,” i.e. having sex). All this aside, she certainly was America’s Iron Lady, being notoriously tough and surviving multiple bouts of cancer. Sadly, pancreatic cancer killed the justice on September 18th, 2020, cementing her status as the dissident liberal justice.
Reaction to the Notorious RBG’s death has reverberated across the political spectrum and, if for a brief moment, unanimous in its sorrow for this loss. Were some of the reactions over-the-top in how they lamented over the death of Ginsberg? To some extent, yes; the now viral reaction on TikTok by @distelthirst comes off as out-of-touch for simply saying that Ginsburg had to make it to 2021, ignoring her obvious health complications. Still, there is a very good reason for this reaction; within one week of her departure, Trump officially announced his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. Best described as one of late Justice Antonin Scalia’s proteges, Barrett considers herself to be a constitutional originalist, believing in the principles behind the Constitution. Barrett has also come under fire for those that question her Catholic beliefs, suspecting that this may hinder her judgement. Most importantly, however, are her beliefs in upholding precedents in spite of her own personal views on the subject, such as Roe vs. Wade.Confirming a judge is a two-step process, however. If you recall the death of Antonin Scalia, you may remember what happened: Obama called for Merrick Garland to fill the void, the Republican majority in the Senate refused to confirm, and then Trump was elected. Now, the shoe is on the other foot; Mitch McConnell now asks for the speedy introduction of Barrett to the bench, while Democrats argue that the American people should decide through the election. Et tu, hypocrita? Of course, it’s not like the Democrats can do much anyway; Republicans control both the executive branch and Senate, making this decision all but confirmed. This political firefight is likely to become more inflamed as time goes on, but, in all likelihood, it will be best to remember RBG and say hello to Barrett.