On Sept. 18, our nation experienced a devastating loss. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a long-standing member of the Supreme Court and a trailblazing advocate for gender equality, died of complications from pancreatic cancer. In the few days before she passed, she told her granddaughter that her “most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
Mere hours after her death, before our country had the chance to grieve and process, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) capitalized upon the tragedy, pledging to confirm Ginsburg’s replacement before this November’s general election. President Donald Trump is expected to announce his nomination within the week, with Judges Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa as possible contenders. Given Republicans’ refusal to confirm Judge Merrick Garland in 2016, their attempts to push Trump’s nominee is blatantly hypocritical. Senate Republicans must stick to their word and wait for the upcoming election to fill Ginsburg’s seat.
McConnell said it best in 2016 when he refused to hold a vote on former President Barack Obama’s nominee, Garland, to fill a vacancy on the Court. He claimed then that appointing a Supreme Court Justice nine months before a presidential election was unethical, since the American people should be able to influence the process by selecting the next president. Now, with the general election just 38 days away, McConnell has reneged on his own word for partisan reasons.
In doing so, McConnell irrevocably altered the Court’s composition. Had he allowed Garland a confirmation vote, it is likely that a left-leaning justice would have been the median voter instead of Chief Justice John Roberts. The median voter is the Supreme Court justice that falls center on ideological issues relative to the others and can at times be the deciding vote. McConnell’s maneuver prevented Garland from becoming a Supreme Court justice and thus halted the Court from shifting left, which would have provided greater security for women’s rights amid the 2019 abortion bans. We lost four years of decisions that would have drastically improved American life. McConnell robbed us of that future. We cannot allow him to waffle on Supreme Court issues whenever convenient: he set a precedent, and he must stick to it.
The basis behind McConnell’s reasoning in 2016 was that Americans deserved an opportunity to influence the Supreme Court’s composition through their votes for the president. If there was ever a time this would be more applicable, it would be 2020. This is the second-closest Supreme Court vacancy to a presidential election in U.S. history. In the four years since Trump was elected to office, his disastrous handling of COVID-19, his impeachment and his controversial appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court are only a few of the events that have reshaped public opinion. Americans who trusted Trump to lead them back in 2016 may have a very different outlook today. This November, we must use our voices and votes to choose our next president — given the tumultuous last four years, we deserve to decide what president will select our next Supreme Court justice.
If Trump and Senate Republicans succeed in appointing a conservative to replace Ginsburg, it would cement the conservative majority and shatter any semblance of ideological balance. Currently, the Supreme Court consists of five conservatives and four liberals. Since conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation, Roberts has typically broken ties when deciding cases relevant to key issues such as LGBTQ+ rights, immigration and more. However, if the Trump administration succeeds in filling Ginsburg’s seat with a conservative, our Supreme Court will be overpowered by conservatives. We run the risk of either losing this fundamental ideological balance or the possibility of packing the court once a Democrat enters office. Such balance is a must in our judicial branch: it depoliticizes a branch intended to operate above the partisan fray. As such, Congress should fill Ginsburg’s seat with another liberal to ensure a consistent ideological balance.
Moving forward, there can only be three defectors amongst Republicans if McConnell hopes to push Trump’s nominee through. With such a narrow boundary, it is more than possible. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have already stated that the Senate should not vote on the nominee prior to the election. Other senators that could potentially defect include Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) for a myriad of reasons. We must do all we can to pressure our senators to vote against confirming a Supreme Court justice before Election Day. We must email, call, turn to social media and demand they prevent Trump from pushing a nominee through the Senate. The stakes have never been this high.
Our Supreme Court’s integrity itself is at stake. When Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court two years ago, I was unsettled at what the Republican Party would do for partisan gains. Now, having seen their instant politicization of Ginsburg’s death, I’m terrified — for me, for every woman out there, for our future. Republicans, someone just died. Our nation is grieving. Give us a choice on who we want to fill her shoes. Give us until January.
Brammhi Balarajan (23C) is from Las Vegas.