• Isabelle Osborne

The political implications of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, US Supreme Court judge, passed away on Friday 18th September of metastatic pancreatic cancer, at the age of 87. Her death is a tragic loss for America, but may have deeper political implications ahead of the 2020 Presidential Election.

Who was Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

Known by the nickname 'RBG', Ginsburg had an incredible political presence in America, with a legal career spanning six decades. Despite finishing top of her class at Harvard Law School, where she was one of only nine women in a class of approximately 500 men, she did not receive any job offers after graduation. This did not deter her; in 1972, Ginsburg co-founded the Women's Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Ginsburg went on to become the first tenured female professor at Columbia Law School, was nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993 as the second of four female justices to be confirmed to the court. She served the Court for 27 years.

Ginsburg was idolised for her progressive votes on some of the most divisive social issues that the Supreme Court dealt with during her time, including abortion rights to same-sex marriages. She was a figurehead for liberals in the US, as well as a prominent feminist. She was not just a political icon, but an icon of the US people.

How will her death have political consequences?

Democrat Ginsburg's death has sparked a discussion on whether the Republican President Donald Trump will use her death to expand the Supreme Court's conservative majority ahead of the November election. The Supreme Court is the highest tribunal in the Nation and has the final word on highly contentious laws. The Court is made up of nine members, with a current 5-4 conservative majority; if Trump should elect a new member ahead of the election, he could lock the conservative majority. This would mean the power balance would shift in favour of Republican ideology, highlighting how the divide of the Court could impact its rulings on important issues in US law towards Republican values.

Trump is expected to nominate a conservative replacement for Ginsburg as soon as possible, despite critics claiming electing a replacement should be the new President's responsibility.

One of the issues the Court has been debating is reproductive rights - many fear that Ginsburg's work to protect legal equality for women may come under threat if Trump appoints a pro-life conservative to fill her place. President Bill Clinton called her “the Thurgood Marshall of gender equality law" when he nominated her for the Court, yet Hilary Clinton has claimed the Republicans are making a "concerted effort" to stall the progress made for minorities and women within the Court.

Joe Biden, Democratic presidential candidate, said: "There is no doubt - let me be clear - that the voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider." It is understandable that the Democrats would be frustrated if Trump was to elect Ginsburg's replacement before the election, considering the fact that in 2016 Republicans denied President Barack Obama the chance to fill the vacant seat wit Merrick Garland for months.

There is a shred of hope for Biden supporters; it is unlikely that Trump will be able to choose Ginsburg's successor before the election due to the Senate having to approve his choice. Ted Cruz, US Senator for Texas, claimed "In order for a supreme court nomination to go forward, you have to have the president and the Senate." However, he also states that "the American people voted. They elected Donald Trump.” If Trump, the people's president, decides to elect Ginsburg's successor before November, the Senate may have no choice but to allow it. Cruz further reminds us that “We need a full court on election day, given the very high likelihood that we’re going to see litigation that goes to the court,” meaning Trump's claim he will fill the empty Court seat is all the more likely.

Before her death, Ginsburg stated "My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed." Only time will tell as to whether Trump will respect her wish, or ignore it in favour of his own political interest.

All quotes, figures and information (unless hyperlinked) are cited to the BBC: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-54214729

Featured image courtesy of Ashton Bingham on Unsplash. Image license can be found here. No changes were made to this image.