Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg leaves influential legacy after her death mid-September
The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Sept. 18 at age 87 leaves behind an enduring legacy and questions about the future of the Supreme Court.
A strong advocate for social justice, Ginsburg co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union and argued six cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, winning five. After she was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1993, Ginsburg became the second woman on the U.S. Supreme Court and served for 27 years.
“Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an incredible inspiration to a lot of people,” freshman Will Grogan, who follows politics very closely, said. “People are always talking about being loud and being heard, but Ruth Bader Ginsburg was very soft spoken, very reserved and very calm, but she had a very powerful voice. There’s an interesting juxtaposition there because she was reserved but one of the most influential women and justices of all time.”
Ginsburg fought in many landmark cases for gender equality, often writing the dissent for losing cases on the Supreme Court. Middle and upper school Chaplain Rev. Tim Kennedy used to work with politicians on Capitol Hill during the early 2000s and remembers studying Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a strong writer and lawyer.
“[Ginsburg] was known for writing some of the crispest, clearest pointed [dissents] so that whether you agree or not it didn’t matter because of the eloquence and her ability to use the language to express her point,” Kennedy said. “If you knew her well, she’s hilarious. She was such a smart lady, a smart jurist and a smart lawyer that she was able to make her point legally, but also hit them with a little barb.”
Ginsburg’s death opens up a seat on the Supreme Court during an election year, raising the question of if a new judge should be appointed before or after the election. On Sept. 26, President Donald Trump nominated Amy Coney Barret for the seat on the Supreme Court, following through with his, and fellow Republicans, intentions to confirm a judge before Inauguration Day. However, many Democrats argue that the Supreme Court Judge should be nominated by whoever wins the election.
“You can look at [this issue] from a lot of different angles,” Rev. Kennedy said. “It boils down to how much power you are willing to exert. Do you think that the power should be exerted in the last month of a presidential election? You can argue both ways, as many politicians have. What’s fascinating about this case study is that there’s so many different ways to look at it.”
According to a Sept. 26 poll of 249 students, 64 percent of students think that a new judge should be appointed after Inauguration Day. Many of those who are against filling the seat before the election look back to 2016 when President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court. Several Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConell, argued that the next president should choose Scalia’s replacement since he died in an election year. Garland’s nomination expired when president Donald Trump was inaugurated, and Scalia was replaced with Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
“If you look back at 2016, a lot of Republicans have quotes on how its precedent not to do a direct replacement during an election year,” senior Stella Foreman, a member of the Women’s Studies Organization, said. “It seems very hypocritical of the now controlling party of the Senate to want to do it… If Trump gets reelected, he should do it, but I think we should let the people decide who they want to be the next justice.”
To avoid Republican control of the Supreme Court, Democrats may attempt to slow down the confirmation process. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi revealed in an interview that another impeachment would not be out of the question to slow down the process, but later, revealed that she was no longer considering impeachment.
“The length of the confirmation process for a Supreme Court Justice varies,” government teacher Kiley McAbee said. “They can range from many months to just a couple. The confirmation of Justice Ginsburg took under two months in 1993. Senate Republicans are hoping to have the full Senate vote by the end of October, so it could be one of the shortest processes yet.”
Another possibility, suggested by many Democrats, including Pete Buttgieg, is to add more seats to the Supreme Court if Democrats gain the majority in the Senate this election.
“Trump has put two judges on the Supreme Court, and if he replaces the seat, three,” Foreman said. “It seems like one president, in the span of four years, can make a huge impact on the Supreme Court. If there’s only nine seats, that’s very detrimental to how the Supreme Court is working.”
The size of the Supreme Court has changed seven times. The current number of nine judges on the Supreme Court was set in 1869. In order to change the size of the Supreme Court, Democrats would need support from Congress, the president and the public.
“One power of the Congress is the fact that they can choose the size of the Supreme Court,” McAbee said. “Many Democrats in Congress are now showing an interest in increasing the size of the Supreme Court, that is, if they are able to win a majority in the Senate come November. If Democrats flip the Senate and Joe Biden wins the presidency, perhaps that scenario could become a reality.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death may cause voters to change their perspective on the election. According to Reuters, 30 percent of Americans say that Ginsburg’s passing makes them more likely to vote for Joe Biden, while 25 percent are more likely to vote for Trump.
“Either party would want to nominate someone before the election,” junior Cash Whiteman, co-president of the Conservative Club, said. “The Constitution does not limit the president from nominating someone just because an election is near. Because the justices have a vital role in the country, I think the seat should be filled as quickly as possible.”
After Ginsburg’s death, memorials and vigils were held across the country, including at the plaza of the Supreme Court. On Sept. 23, she became the first woman to lie in repose at the Supreme Court, and on Sept. 25, she became the first woman to lie in-state at the U.S. Capitol. Foreman hopes that Ginsburg will be remembered for more than her controversial replacement.
“I hope that she’s remembered as a pioneer for women and women’s rights,” Foreman said. “It’s really sad for someone who respects and idolizes her so much for her death and legacy to be turned into this partisanship issue… Even two hours after she died, people were already talking about who’s going to replace her instead of what a wonderful impact she had.”