In a US election campaign most thought couldn’t possibly get any more volatile, the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg this week proved the opposite.
Remembered by her colleagues as a “tireless and resolute champion of justice”, Ginsburg was famous for her championing of women’s rights, and ultimately becoming an icon for liberals across the United States and beyond.
“We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn, but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her,” said Chief Justice John Roberts.
Ginsburg, who was affectionately known as the “notorious RBG”, was paramount in changing policies on matters such as safeguarding abortion rights, securing equal rights for women, and expanding rights for the LGBTQI community.
The second female to be made a justice after Sandra Day O’Connor, she had battled and overcome health issues with colon, pancreatic and lung cancers over the last 20 years, however announced a recurrence of cancer in July this year.
Days before her death, aged 87, Ginsburg’s granddaughter released a statement on her behalf saying: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
However, with only six weeks until Americans head to the polls, President Trump and other Republicans have made it clear they are not willing to wait.
According to America’s judicial system – the president of the United States has the authority to nominate new justices to the Supreme Court. It is the Senate’s job, however, to confirm that nomination.
Republicans currently have a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate which means they have an opportunity to replace a greatly progressive icon, with a conservative.
This would result in the Supreme Court having six conservative justices, to only three progressive. Commentators have expressed concern that this could pave the way to, among other things, the overturning of Roe vs Wade – a landmark decision which saw the legalisation of abortion in the United States, almost 40 years ago.
Furthermore, the Democrats are still angry that the Republicans blocked Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland in 2016, which allowed them to later fill that position and a subsequent one with conservative lawmakers.
The choice of Supreme Court justices is highly contentious because they are politically-influenced appointments and the positions are for life. Ruth Bader Ginsburg served 27 years on the Supreme Court.
And an additional conservative member of the court would make it the most Republican top heavy in three decades – with the potential to dramatically change the landscape of America’s justice system over coming years.
The polls have shown the president trailing the Democrats’ presidential candidate Joe Biden by seven percentage points, and most Americans believe he has done a poor job handling the coronavirus pandemic. His efforts to shift the conversation to issues such as law and order, also, have yet to boost his standing.
Trump has said the ideal is to fill the Supreme Court vacancy prior to the election on November 3 and that he will disclose his nominee tomorrow, after shortlisting five potential candidates – all women.
That’s a process that normally takes about 70 days – less time than is left before people go to the polls. However, political experts have made it clear that even if he lost the election, there is still a small window of time to push through a nominee before the president-elect is sworn in.
Ethically, it raises many questions and concerns – but these days, stranger things have happened.