Legendary Figure RBG’s Untimely Death

Former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death has left the country in a state of mourning, and it seems that her dying wish to “not be replaced until a new president is installed” might never come true.

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By Emily Chen

The year 2020 has been a whirlwind, and the death of one of America’s most beloved has only exacerbated this era of uncertainty. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—commonly referred to as RBG—died of complications from stage 4 pancreatic cancer on Thursday, September 18, 2020. Her death has left the country in a state of mourning, and it seems that her dying wish to “not be replaced until a new president is installed” might never come true. Understandably so, many are worried for the future of the Supreme Court—and the U.S. at large.

While it is not right to paint RBG as a saint, it is worth noting her many accomplishments. Before being appointed as a Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg co-founded the first law journal on women’s rights. She also co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union and extended the 14th Amendment to include women. She further built the “scaffolding for addressing the sexism women suffered” by strategically bringing cases to the Supreme Court on behalf of male victims. RBG knew that justice would not be swift. By building trust among male judges, she set a foundation for the cases that were yet to come in her career as a Supreme Court justice.

Shortly after becoming the first female Jewish Supreme Court justice in 1993, RBG began making decisions that really made her stand out. In 1996, she wrote the majority opinion stating that women would have equal access to education (United States v. Virginia). She stated that as per the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, states must allow persons with mental illness to be placed in community settings rather than in institutions in 1999 (Olmstead v. L.C.). RBG worked to protect rivers from illegal pollutants as they would cause harm to the environment and its people in 2000 (Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw Environmental Services). She spoke out for a 13-year-old girl in 2009, stating that a body search violated the Fourth Amendment and hurt a young woman at a sensitive age (Safford Unified School District v. Redding).

While readers may downplay the aforementioned accomplishments by calling her a “product of her time,” Justice Ginsburg’s dissents—as well as her views on LGBTQ+ rights—provide ample evidence that she was far ahead of her time. Justice Ginsburg coined her signature phrase “I dissent” in 2000 during Bush v. Gore, stating that one cannot label a vote recount to be “impractical” without testing it first. RBG fired back against gender and pay discrimination in the workplace in 2007, demanding that it not be overlooked (Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.). Justice Ginsburg showed her support for same-sex marriage in 2013 by becoming the first Supreme Court justice to officiate one. This officiation struck audiences because it happened two years before same-sex marriage was made legal under federal law. It is a clear example of how RBG always followed what she believed to be right, jumpstarting movements and transforming lives in the process.

During the final two decades of her life, Ruth Bader Ginsburg struggled with five bouts of cancer. Despite countless draining sessions of chemotherapy, Justice Ginsburg made sure to fulfill her duties on the Supreme Court, rarely missing a hearing. She always tried her best to show up because it made others wary of their decisions, and she carried that role with great power. After all, Justice Ginsburg was a senior member, and her presence commanded respect from others in the room.

Now that she is no longer with us, there is an empty seat on the Supreme Court. The last time this occurred was in 2016 when Justice Antonin Scalia passed away. At the time, former President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, but Garland was not confirmed to the Court. Using the excuse of it being an election year, Senate Majority Leader Mitchel McConnell wanted then-candidate Donald Trump to appoint the next justice. Trump—to no surprise—chose conservative Neil Gorsuch. In his time, Justice Gorsuch has supported the following: a travel ban from largely Muslim countries, an added citizenship question to the census form, and a ban on transgender service members in the military. In short, he has done Trump’s bidding.

This year, the American people hoped that McConnell would stay true to his word and urge President Trump to honor RBG’s dying wish. However, all those who once believed McConnell had even a shred of dignity have been greatly mistaken. McConnell wrote the following in the Washington Post in 2016: “Given that we are in the midst of the presidential election process, we believe that the American people should seize the opportunity to weigh in on whom they trust to nominate the next person for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.” This year, he shamelessly did a full 180, saying that “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.” To make matters worse, McConnell’s reasoning was that the Senate “pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary.” McConnell’s statement is far from unbiased and is clearly hypocritical.

We knew that McConnell would stand his ground, but we also believed there may be enough defectors. A likely defector was Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who told the NYT that she would not vote on a new justice in October as it is far too close to the election. Similarly, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska told an interviewer that she opposed voting on a new justice some 50 days before an election. While it seemed that Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Mitt Romney of Utah could be the other two defectors, they have since supported McConnell, saying that the Democrats would have done the same. This left President Trump with little opposition from his own party as he nominated Amy Coney Barrett to fill RBG’s seat.

Barrett is radically different from RBG in her views on the Affordable Care Act, abortion rights, and immigration. Being only 48 years old, she would seal the 6-3 conservative Supreme Court for an entire generation. Trump wishes to confirm Barrett before the election because it’d be a win-win situation for him. If he is re-elected for a second term, the Supreme Court will back him in potential cases. If Biden wins the election, the conservative majority in the Court would support Trump’s views on the “danger” of mail-in ballots. And even if the issue of mail-in ballots is resolved, future Democratic presidents would be at odds with a Court that may use judicial review against them.

While it seems likely that Barrett will be confirmed by the Senate, there may be hope with Democrats holding a filibuster, requiring not 51 but 60 votes to fill the Supreme Court. In the case that there is a filibuster, the public could increase the odds of the next president nominating a Supreme Court justice by emailing senators to vote against Barrett.

If sympathy toward RBG’s death and the threat of “Trump’s America” are not enough to sway other Republican senators, then it’s safe to say that a new justice will be in place before the election in November. It pains me to say that I fear greatly for the future of our country.