BY OLIVIA GYAPONG SEPT. 18, 2020
Supreme Court Justice, firebrand, civil rights champion, longtime feminist and pop culture sensation Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on Sep. 17 at the age of 87.1
Ginsburg voted progressively on issues including abortion rights, same-sex marriage, immigration and health care, according to CNN Politics.2
Ginsburg, who was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1993 by former President Bill Clinton, became the second woman appointed to the highest court in the land in its 212-year history.3
A lifelong learner, Ginsburg thrived in academia and graduated top of her class at Cornell.4 Ginsburg attended both Harvard Law School and Columbia Law School, where she graduated at the top of her class from Columbia Law, breaking the proverbial glass ceiling and entering the male-dominated field of law. She also became the first female professor to receive tenure at Columbia University and the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.5
Ginsburg garnered national attention for her work with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the 1970s, through which she chaired the Women’s Rights Project and wrote briefs on many cases aimed to erase statutes of gender discrimination IBID. Ginsburg would successfully argue in six landmark Supreme Court Cases.6 The first of her gender discrimination cases—Mortiz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue—was the case featured in the award-winning 2018 film On the Basis of Sex, which retold salient parts of Ginsburg’s professional and personal life, from winning court cases and not being hired at a law firm because she was a woman to rallying after her husband’s cancer diagnosis.7
The president identifies nominees and submits a formal nomination to the Senate Judiciary Committee. There are no constitutional requirements for Supreme Court nominees, but most have a legal background. The Senate then has a hearing to confirm the nominee. If the nominee receives 51 affirmative votes, they are confirmed and appointed to the Supreme Court.8
Given that the Republicans currently have a majority in the Senate, President Trump’s nominee is likely to be confirmed.
President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will try to fill the vacancy before the 2020 election despite Ginsburg’s dying wishes that she not be replaced until after the election;9 Ginsburg hoped to serve til she was 90 years old.10
“[President Trump] can appoint someone as fast as he wants,” AP U.S. Government and Politics teacher Mary Wagner said. “He's already shown that he doesn't care about the American Bar Association's recommendation. [Senator Mitch] McConnell will push [the nomination] through as fast as he can. We'll have a new Court by January.”
According to the Georgetown University Law Library, the Senate Judiciary Committee usually takes a month to collect necessary background information on the nominee and prepare the nominee for hearings.11
From nomination to confirmation, the approval process takes around 2.5 months.12
Mitch McConnell was already the Senate Majority Leader in 2016 when a similar situation occurred (during an election year). At the time, McConnell declared that “the American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” As such, although President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, Senate Republicans refused to confirm Garland. The vacancy was not filled until President Trump took office and nominated his own candidate.
Following the death of Ginsburg, however, McConnell vowed to schedule President Trump’s nominee-to-be for a hearing before the end of the year to secure a conservative majority on the Court. According to Fox News,13 McConnell defended himself against accusations of partisanship by citing that the presidency and Senate were controlled by two different parties in 2016 whereas the presidency and Senate are currently both Republican controlled.
With Ginsburg’s passing, the Supreme Court has become more heavily conservative. There are now five Republican-appointed sitting justices and three Democrat-appointed sitting justices. Upon confirmation of President Trump’s nominee, the Court will most likely have a conservative majority of 6-3.14
President Trump recently released a list of 20 potential Supreme Court nominees. The most prominent nominees include Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Ted Cruz (R-TX).15
However, it’s important to note that current justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh—both appointees of President Trump—were not on the shortlist for nomination. Essentially, this means there is a chance that someone not on this list could be nominated and approved.
Just a week after the 2020 election, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a conservative challenge to Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Chief Justice John Roberts cast the deciding vote to uphold what came to be known as Obamacare in 2012, but with Ginsburg gone and the Court no longer split, the decision may favor Republicans this time.19
Wagner also predicted an overturn of abortion policy. “They’ll overturn Roe v. Wade as soon as they can,” she said.
Ginsburg was a pop culture icon. Leading up to and after the release of On the Basis of Sex, Ginsburg was referred to as the “Notorious RBG,” likening her pop culture status to that of rap legend Biggie Smalls. She was the subject of comical operas, documentaries, apparel, Saturday Night Live segments and of course her biopic.20