When Ruth Bader Ginsburg was sworn into the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993, she became just the second woman ever to join the high court, having risen to the position after a long career advocating for gender equality and women’s rights. She attended both Harvard and Columbia law schools at a time when few women were admitted, graduating from the latter at the top of her class in 1959. Thirteen years later, she was hired as the first female tenured faculty member at Columbia, where she would spend the next eight years teaching courses on sexual discrimination and the law. Throughout the 1970s, she also served as a volunteer attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, directing the work of its Women’s Rights Project, which she helped found, and successfully arguing multiple cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, establishing the framework to prevent gender discrimination in America. Her victories secured her appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, and later her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton.
“Many admirers of her work say that she is to the women’s movement what former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was to the movement for the rights of African Americans,” Mr. Clinton said at the time.
As an associate justice, she would become known for her rulings and fiery dissents regarding women’s rights. She wrote a groundbreaking decision forcing the Virginia Military Institute to admit women; a pointed protest against the court’s majority ruling upholding a nationwide ban on so-called partial birth abortion, “a procedure,” she noted, “found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists”; and a sharp objection to a ruling that restricted when an employee could sue for unequal pay resulting from discriminatory practices. President Barack Obama later signed a law loosening deadlines for such lawsuits.
She was the subject of two popular films and more than two dozen books, including her own: “My Own Words.” And copies of her robes and signature collar will undoubtedly be donned by thousands of admiring little girls this Halloween.
This feminist hero, affectionately known by her initials RBG, died Friday at 87 from complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer. Days earlier, she dictated this to her granddaughter, Clara Spera: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
And yet, this deathbed plea from a revered and respected member of the American judiciary, who dedicated her life to fighting for fair treatment, likely will be roundly ignored by Republican senators who hold the power to install her replacement. They’ve promised to push forward a vote on a nomination made by President Donald Trump, who on Thursday earned another public accusation of sexual misconduct, this time by former model Amy Dorris — at least the 26th woman to bring such charges against him in the court of public opinion, and likely the latest to see nothing come of them.
The conservatives who will ignore the irony of this are the same people who four years ago refused to advance a vote on President Obama’s moderate nominee Merrick Garland, claiming in February of 2016, after conservative leaning Associate Justice Antonin Scalia died, that they couldn’t possibly approve a replacement with a presidential election a mere nine months away.
Now, with a presidential election just six weeks away — and early voting already begun in some states, both in person and by mail — Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says a vote will occur because, unlike in 2016, the Senate is controlled by the same party as the presidency. It’s a naked admission that the decision isn’t about proper procedure or doing what’s right, but about power and who holds it.
When President Trump took office, the high court was essentially ideologically split, with four justices leaning left, four leaning right, and Scalia’s former position open. President Trump filled it with conservative Neil Gorsuch, maintaining the earlier 5-4 makeup before Scalia’s death, and he kept it there when he replaced the retiring Justice Anthony M. Kennedy with Brett Kavanaugh.
Replacing Ginsburg with a conservative justice will bump the power to 6-3, potentially securing a right-leaning court for generations to come and the ability to determine how the Constitution is interpreted and civil rights and liberties determined.
For many, this is the sole reason they voted for Donald Trump in the first place. They dismissed his lies, misogyny and furtherance of racism for the chance to control the court and potentially limit access to abortion, asylum and federal requirements for health insurance. A full quarter — 26% — of Trump voters told pollsters in 2016 that nominating conservative justices to the Supreme Court was their most important voting criterion.
On some level, that’s understandable. If a voter truly believes in their heart, for example, that abortion is just plain unjustified, evil and anti-infant, how can that person not do everything in their power to eliminate it? We don’t agree, but we see the logic. It is the same logic that compels us to fight for the opposite.
It takes just 51 votes to approve a Supreme Court justice, and Republicans hold a 53-47 majority. If a handful of them refuse to confirm, as some have suggested they would — including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who’s in a tight reelection race in a state that’s leaning toward Trump-challenger Joe Biden — Sen. McConnell’s plans could be upset.
And they should be, not just because of the “brazen hypocrisy” of going forward with a vote now when there was none in 2016, but because the politicians are supposed to serve the people, who are in the process of making their will known. The least we can do is wait to hear it.
To those Republican senators waffling on how to proceed, we would offer them advice from Justice Ginsburg herself, who turned dissent into an art form:
“Dissents speak to a future age,” she once said. “It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents … gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.”
The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.