I was doing something at my computer yesterday evening when my wife laid the news on me: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died. My reaction wasn’t quite as though I had been punched in the gut, but it wasn’t much better than that. In the best of times, a loss of that nature would be considerable and its impact profound. Considering the current state of both American politics and jurisprudence, this news is potentially cataclysmic.
From the time of her entry into the American judicial system, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been a tireless force for human rights. Her initial fights were, indeed, on her own behalf and those of her fellow women, fighting for equal treatment in a milieu where men effectively owned the field and women were simply not present. Her excellent track record was rewarded in 1993 when then President Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court, only the second woman to be so honored, after Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. After debate on Ginsburg’s nomination, the Senate confirmed her to the highest court in the land by a sweeping 96-3 vote.
Once commissioned to the court, Ginsburg continued her ongoing fight for the rights of women, in education (United States v. Virginia), in employment (Ledbetter v. Goodyear), and as regards abortion rights (Stenberg v. Carhart), among multiple other instances. Of interest to atheists will be her objection to the inscription of “in the year of our Lord” on Supreme Court certificates, which was noted and changes implemented for those bar members who so opted. Her fiery opinions and pointed dissents earned her the sobriquet: “Notorious R.B.G.,” which she wore with great good humor.
Justice Ginsburg’s death puts the state of the US Supreme Court in a highly contentious position. Four years ago, when Merrick Garland was nominated for the court by Barack Obama, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell announced that he would not consider that nomination, citing as his reasoning that 2016 was an election year. While that excuse was loudly denounced by Democrats, no action was taken, and with the election of Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch was subsequently nominated and confirmed by the Senate in early 2017. Now in 2020, McConnell has stated that he will take swift action upon the proposal of a successor to Ginsburg in the Senate – in an election year. Hypocrisy, even writ this large, apparently matters little to him.
With this event, many rights hang in the balance: women’s rights; gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans rights; immigrant rights, documented and undocumented; will now be exposed to a court whose balance has been skewed severely to the conservative end of the spectrum. Yet one more right-wing ideologue added to The Nine will have an impact which will remain with that body for decades. Those Americans who participate on Atheist Universe now have our work cut out for us in putting the brakes on the bum’s rush confirmation process which will, without doubt, commence the moment Trump puts his choice before the Senate. I have my own fight ahead of me in the person of Senator Rob Portman, who has a VERY bad habit of deferring to Trump’s judgment, particularly regarding judicial appointments. And despite the very large shadow Ginsburg threw on the court during her tenure, it is doubtful that the Senate will honor the hope she expressed to her granddaughter: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
Ginsburg was a giant of jurisprudence. I will not see her replaced by a midget. Time to go to work again, people.