Last Friday, at 7:38 p.m. Washington, D.C. time, my girlfriend pressed pause on the show that we were watching. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg died,” she said. With my heart racing I asked, “What?” because with 46 days until the U.S. presidential election, this changed everything. Because with this, both political extremes were going to become entrenched. I repeated “no, no, no” and thought this is what we had been missing.
Let me explain. Ginsburg, one of the nine justices of the United States Supreme Court, died at age 87. An appointment to the Court, which is made by the president and confirmed by the Senate, is for the justice’s lifetime. It can move the country in a certain direction politically and leave it there for half a century. Because of this, controlling the court has been a key issue for Republican voters, because if Republicans control the court, they can restrict abortion, protect religious and gun rights, deny the importance of the LGBTQ community and confirm the importance of corporations. Just as RBG (as the justice was affectionately known) represented a vote on the left, being able to count on five or more votes on the right amounted to a checkmate. In another year, this would already be a big deal, but it is 2020 and everything is pushing us closer and closer to the cliff.
When conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016, President Barack Obama put forward centrist Merrick Garland for confirmation, knowing that the Republican Senate was against him all the way. Then Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell entered the picture. He said the Senate could not yet consider the nomination because the country was in an election and needed to wait until the country chose a new president. No matter that such a rule was invented there and then, no matter that it was 10 months to the election. The Senate accepted the decision, and it waited. Candidate Donald Trump released a list of judges that he would have nominated. Many voters who were unsure if they would vote for that crude and vulgar man were convinced by this. Two months after Trump was elected, Neil Gorsuch was sworn in as the ninth Supreme Court justice. Then in July of 2018, when justice Anthony Kennedy retired, Trump and the Republicans went all out to nominate and confirm a second justice, Brett Kavanaugh.
In May of last year, McConnell was asked if he would try to fill the vacant seat if a justice were to die during the presidential campaign. McConnell lowered his glass of iced tea, paused a second, and then, with a little smile, responded, “Of course we would fill it,” to an audience that broke out laughing. This pissed off the left in the U.S. And then came the jokes, although they were more like prayers, with people praying to all the saints and agreeing to donate body organs if necessary to help keep the cancer-stricken Justice Ginsburg alive.
But either way, Ginsburg died at 7:38 p.m. and at 9:00 p.m., McConnell issued a press release in which he confirmed that the Senate would vote on President Trump’s nominee. The fuse was lit. The Republicans were quick to say they agreed, out of fear they might lose the presidency and the Senate, and the opportunity to keep the country conservative for some 40 more years.
The Democrats are clamoring for the Republicans to fulfill their promise from 2016. If they don’t, the Democrats will do everything in their power to expand the number of members on the Court in January, something that has not been done in more than 100 years. What was labeled the “coronavirus election” is now going to be the “Supreme Court election.” Voters who had not been very enthusiastic have suddenly felt the impulse to sign up now for the coming battle.
My girlfriend and I hung out. What else could we do? We turned on the news, because the one thing we were worrying about in an election as explosive as this was a lifeline for the right and fear for the progressives. That night, the two sides became further entrenched. There were 45 days left. The country is protesting the fact that this vacant Supreme Court seat has indeed provoked – is provoking – a fight over filling it.
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