Justice undone

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing has brought up the issue of her replacement just weeks away from the election

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice of the United States, passed away on Friday, Sept. 18.

I want to start by making a few things clear – first, I wish for Justice Ginsburg to rest in peace. She passed from complications of pancreatic cancer, and while I think she should have retired earlier, that is not something I plan to litigate here.

Second, I am against voter shaming. I believe very strongly that whoever you support in an election is your decision alone, and the moment someone else can control how you vote, that vote is no longer yours. The Supreme Court is a critical institution and voting with that in mind is entirely reasonable. Choosing to vote independent, or even to abstain, is also a personal decision which nobody should attempt to shame you for – though I strongly believe you should vote if you can.

Third, I want to clearly state my own biases – I am politically left wing and independent – I do not consider myself to be either a Democrat or a Republican, and I have many criticisms of both of the major parties in the United States. I shape my views mostly on policies and records, but Justice Ginsburg’s record is a separate issue. I want to talk about what happens next – who replaces her, and when?

President Trump has signaled two potential replacements earlier this month, with Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ted Cruz of Texas as names to remember. Now, we have confirmation that he plans to nominate somebody to fill the vacancy. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, plans to do everything he can to confirm the President’s nominee as well – all before the election, landing the court at a 6-3 conservative majority.

Merrick Garland would probably like to have a word with us all right about now.

As a refresher, Garland was President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee in 2016, and he was nominated to replace Justice Antonin Scalia. Garland, however, never received a vote on the Senate floor. Senate Republicans argued that confirming a Supreme Court Justice during an election year would not be fair to voters – let the election conclude, and the victor can appoint their preferred Justice. Now, the Senate Republicans have made a swift heel-turn to throw principle out of the window in order to grab power. This move could have lasting implications for decades to come – likely including overturning Roe v. Wade and other critical decisions that would have dramatic impacts on people’s lives and livelihoods.

In law, there is a concept called precedent. Put simply, precedent means that past decisions should apply to relevant future challenges. What happened here is that Senator McConnell has established a precedent of not confirming Justices in an election year – but now he is tearing that decision to shreds. Senator McConnell is a man with no guiding principles, which is hardly surprising for a man who calls himself the Grim Reaper. He is emblematic of the partisan divide in the United States, and he is both symptom and disease when it comes to Washington corruption. Now, due to political convenience, he plans to shift the balance of the Supreme Court for decades to come.

The Supreme Court was supposed to be the sole apolitical institution in the United States. For decades, it was carefully crafted of counterbalanced forces – four liberal, four conservative, and one moderate swing vote. By no means was the Court a perfect entity – yet for all of the Court’s problems, the most significant and relevant right now being lifetime appointments, it at least was trusted to act in our best interests.

Now, like all institutions before it, the Supreme Court has been fatally compromised.

You set the terms, Mitch. Now, stick to your word, and leave Justice Ginsburg’s seat vacant until after Inauguration.