What Does RBG’s Passing Mean for the Supreme Court?

Chloe Wong, Staff Writer

A conservative replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away Sept. 18 due to complications from pancreatic cancer, could tip the scales of the Supreme Court in the right wing’s favor for generations to come. 

Ginsburg was 87 at the time of her death and long helped to sustain a modest liberal presence on the Supreme Court; three of her fellow Justices hold liberal principles, while five of them lean conservative. Should Judge Amy Coney Barett—who was nominated for the Supreme Court on Sept. 26—be appointed before Election Day, this balance would be heavily disrupted, with conservatives all but dominating the highest court in America at 6-3. In the days before her death, Justice Ginsburg told her granddaughter Clara Spera that her “most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” 

Judge Barett, whose confirmation hearing began on Oct. 13., is opposed to abortion, gun regulation, and identifies as being as a conservative Catholic. She’s 48 years old, implying the longevity of her Supreme Court tenure; this would further ensure the legacy of a Trump presidency even when the said president has left the White House. Both of these qualities have led liberals to scrutinize her legal record, while conservatives staunchly defend her. At her nomination in the Rose Garden, President Trump praised Barett as  “a woman of unparalleled achievement, towering intellect, sterling credentials, and unyielding loyalty to the Constitution.” 

On the other hand, Democrats made it clear that they opposed her nomination. According to Senator Chuck Schumer, the people should “make no mistake: a vote by any senator for Judge Amy Coney Barrett is a vote to strike down the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and eliminate protections for millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions,” in reference to Barrett’s history in opposition to ACA.

Since 1969, Republican presidents have appointed 14 justices, while Democrats have appointed only four. There is a record of the Supreme Court being the most conservative out of the three branches of American government; the Court was instrumental in delaying political and social change in racial cases such as Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson, so this would certainly not be the first time that the Supreme Court has shifted right. However, it’s important to note that during eras where there was a conservative majority—such as when President Richard Nixon, a Republican, appointed three Justices of his choice—liberals only won a few important victories, one being Roe v. Wade.

But a third Justice appointment by President Trump, following the successful confirmation of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, doesn’t necessarily spell doom for liberal America. When Republican President Eisenhower appointed Justices Earl Warren and William Brennan to the Court, many anticipated them to be conservative. In reality, their rulings were moderate or even liberal. And there is always the possibility that a Justice will drift left or right once they have the security of a lifetime appointment—Justice John Roberts has long been known as the Court’s unofficial “swing vote”, even though he’s technically a conservative. 

Regardless, a 6-3 majority in favor of conservatives would shake the country in a way few confirmations do, as many fear that liberal ideologies (the decriminalization of abortions, LGBTQ+ rights, etc.,) may be put on the line in the face of a conservative Supreme Court. In the midst of one of the most polarizing elections in American history, the coming confirmation battle is sure to be ugly and divisive. 

Many have pointed out that, had Justice Ginsburg retired earlier in her career when President Obama was in office, a liberal justice might still occupy that ninth Supreme Court seat. But Ginsburg refused, as was accurate to her hardworking and tenacious character—stating that she would not vacate her position as long as she could do the job “full steam.”


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