A Notorious Year: RBG’s Seat in American Politics


Zoe Klein, Commentary Editor

2020 is a year of mourning. Mourning for our 200,000 brothers and sisters who have died of COVID-19, mourning for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, mourning for our sanity and, most recently, for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. On the evening of Friday, September 18, the world heard news of Ginsburg’s death. We will all remember where we were when we learned of her passing I ran to my mother and collapsed, crying, into her arms. While mourning the death of one strong woman, I found comfort in the arms of another.

Ginsburg was an inspiration to many. As the second woman to sit on the Supreme Court, she warranted praise from people in every generation. She was a feminist icon for Generation Z, a breath of fresh air for Millenials in search of representation, and a familiar feminine face for Baby Boomers who followed her political career from her position at the American Civil Liberties Union to a spot in the U.S. Court of Appeals to her seat on the Supreme Court. 

Ginsburg represented the voices of those whose voices are so often muffled in American politics. From backing a woman’s right to choose, representing equality and women’s rights, and voting in favor of gay marriage, Ginsburg was an advocate for equality for all during her time on the court. We have to consider what will happen now that she’s gone.

On her deathbed, Ginsburg told her granddaughter, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” according to the New York Times. The same evening that the public got word of her passing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., confirmed that the Senate would be voting on the matter as soon as possible. His failure to follow Ginsburg’s dying wish is emblematic of the attitude of the rest of the Republican Party this year win at all costs.

With President Donald Trump in office, it’s expected that the White House will push forward a nominee in the months before the election. McConnell’s intention to execute a vote before the November election directly conflicts with statements made during the 2016 election year. When Justice Antonin Scalia passed away, McConnell declined to hold a vote, citing that it was “too close to the election.” And now, four years later, it is 45 days until the election, and McConnell has elected to hold a vote as soon as possible. 

Trump has made a couple of options clear Ted Cruz of Texas, who has said he does not wish to be nominated, and Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Amy Coney Barrett and Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ar., whose strong conservative philosophy could mean the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which provided women with the right to choice, and/or Obergfell v. Hodges, which legalized gay marriage. Either of their ironclad conservative views could result in the loss of rights for millions of Americans.

However, there are two major ways  to counteract the terrifying thought of an overwhelmingly conservative Supreme Court but only if Democratic candidates can shift the balance of power in Washington in November. 

The first option is a situation in which Democrats win the Senate majority in the November election. If this were to happen, then it is possible that Democrats could pass a bill increasing the number of Supreme Court seats, which could provide more balance and offset the effects of a Trump nominee’s swearing-in. 

The second option is the idea that, if Biden wins the presidency, Trump’s nominee may not be confirmed before Biden’s swearing-in. This would only be possible if Republican swing members such as Sen. Susan Collins (whose only hope in winning the upcoming election could be to reject Trump’s nomination), Sen. Mitt Romney (who has strongly criticized Trump), and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (who opposes voting for a nominee before the November election) make the decision not to back Trump’s nomination.

The aftershock of Ginsburg’s death places America in even deeper political and emotional turmoil. It feels as though our government is entirely up in the air, and we’re all holding on for what could possibly happen next. However, this is not a time for cynicism. We have to turn our sadness and fear and mourning into compassion, care, and most importantly, action. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg had faith in our country’s ability to maintain equality and hope, and we have to prove to her that we can. This means campaigning for Biden and Democratic Congressional candidates. It means safely working the polls. Lastly, it means continuing to protest for human rights like we have been for much of 2020. It may be hard to maintain a positive mindset among all of the tragedies of this year, but we must in order to implement change. As Ginsburg said in 2015, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”