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RBG: Respect or Replace?

By Saanvi Mirchandani

Recently, the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has flooded news headlines, causing uncertainty about the future of the Supreme Court and raising the stakes for the upcoming presidential election.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg began her judicial career after graduating from Columbia Law School and becoming the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court in 1980, appointed by President Carter. She was a critical advocate for furthering equality for all, especially women. During her time on the Supreme Court, she helped to end all-male education at state-run universities, increase rights for people with disabilities, legalize gay marriage, and reduce regulations on abortion clinics.

Justice Ginsburg’s death leaves an empty seat in the Supreme Court just 46 days before a monumental election. Throughout America, there has been endless controversy about when her seat should be filled.

My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” said Justice Ginsburg, days before her death.

Many people believe that this wish should be respected, yet others are pushing for a new appointment before November 3rd. In the center of this dilemma stands Senator Mitch McConnell, who is being criticized for his hypocrisy. Nine months before the 2016 presidential election, Justice Antonin Scalia passed away. The Republican majority Senate during this time prevented President Obama’s nomination of a liberal justice from being approved, stating that the people should have a say in the nominee when they vote for the next President.

Suddenly, the “waiting for the election” logic does not apply anymore...

"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,” said Senator McConnell in February 2016.

That was politics at play. McConnell did not want to allow another justice from the opposing political party to be appointed and instead delayed it, allowing President Trump to appoint Justice Neil Gorsuch to the seat.

Suddenly, the “waiting for the election” logic does not apply anymore, despite Ginsburg’s passing being closer to the election than that of Scalia. Some may interpret Senator McConnell as focusing on his political party rather than respecting American democracy as well as Ginsburg’s legacy. If the issue was truly about placing the decision in the citizens' hands, the nomination of a new justice would happen after the election.

Artwork by Shadia Zayer

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg left an impactful legacy and inspired people to fight for what they believe in.

During the first presidential debate, this was the issue that started the night. Chris Wallace explained the dilemma and gave both candidates a chance to respond. President Trump argued that since both the President and the Senate majority are Republican, he has every right to push Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination through the Senate. His supporters claimed that in 2016, the scenario was treated differently because there was a Democratic President and a Republican Senate; therefore, the presidential vote would designate which party the majority of American people supported.

Vice President Joe Biden brought the opposing argument: we are in the middle of an election, and over 5.5 million people have already voted early or by mail-in ballots. If America elects Biden as our President and the Senate swings to a Democratic majority, then the people will have expressed the need for another liberal justice.

Mitch McConnell took the steps to confirm Barrett's appointment with a final vote by Monday, October 26th, causing a rift between Democrat and Republican senators. Democrat senators have used many tactics to delay the final vote, including a last minute closed session and boycotting a Senate Judiciary Committee. The Democrats do not have any procedural tools to prevent the nomination from going forward altogether.

If Trump’s nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, is officially appointed as a justice, the lives and rights of Americans will most likely change. Trump has been attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act for years, and if he has a conservative majority Supreme Court, he may be able to. Amy Coney Barrett has expressed her criticism of the act in the past, and if it is repealed, over 100 million Americans with pre-existing conditions will lose healthcare coverage. Barret is openly opposed to the legality of abortion and gay marriage. If Barrett is confirmed, the court will be heavily conservative, so much so that conservatives could lose a vote and still win a majority decision.

The people of America deserved a say about the new Supreme Court justice this November...

If Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed as a justice, she will serve a lifetime term, which directly affects our generation. The issues at hand are not ones to take lightly, since the basic rights of many people are up in the air. A decision as impactful as this one should have been made after the election, when the country has a chance to express their views. Since the Trump campaign is already so confident that they will win this election, what is the harm in waiting for the results? The people of America deserved a say about the new Supreme Court justice this November.

This country is amid a pandemic, a presidential election and a racial justice movement. This Supreme Court nomination adds more pressure to an already extremely divided nation. Filling Justice Ginsburg’s seat before this election can cause this country to take steps backward concerning social issues that Ginsburg fought for her entire career, such as universal healthcare, LGBTQ rights, and abortion.


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