On September 18, 2020, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Supreme Court Justice and feminist icon, died at the age of 87. Having fought for women’s rights and gender equality over the entirety of her career, she became the most formidable force on the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) for 27 years. However, now that she has passed, there is a vacant seat on the Supreme Court and the Republican government is trying to act quickly in an attempt to fill it.
Days before her death, Ginsberg shared a harrowing statement with her granddaughter that has now come to light: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” With the current political climate, it seems as though Ginsberg’s final wish will not be granted. Though they were quick to voice their opinions against Obama’s desire to replace Justice Scalia after his sudden death in 2016, the Republican party has now changed their tune. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell previously held the belief that “the American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice” and that vacancies “should not be filled until [the United States has] a new president.” After Ginsberg’s passing, he quickly changed his tune, declaring that “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
But who is President Trump’s nominee and what does this mean for the future of the United States? It has recently been released that Trump has selected Judge Amy Coney Barrett to be Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s successor. The most glaring difference between the two women is that in every way that Ginsberg was liberal, Barrett is not. In turn, her potential appointment will cause the Supreme Court to become even more right-leaning. Before Ginsberg’s passing, there were 5 Justices who were Republican and 4 who were Democratic. If Barrett is appointed, there will be a 6-to-3 split in the SCOTUS, meaning the Republican party will have a much easier time passing more conservative legislation.
Most notably, Barrett holds the firm belief that the case of Roe v. Wade – the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that ruled in support of protection a woman’s right to an abortion without excessive government restriction – was an “erroneous decision” and has brought up the possibility of reopening the case if she were to be elected. In addition, she has signed letters criticizing the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for contraceptive coverage. While an anti-Roe majority in SCOTUS does not ensure the case’s immediate downfall, it certainly presents a threat to women’s reproductive rights.
Furthermore, the rights of the LGBTQ+ community are also threatened with Barrett’s appointment. Barrett holds the belief that marriage is meant to be sacred between a man and a woman. She has also been known to defend the Supreme Court dissenters on the Obergefell v. Hodges case, the landmark marriage equality ruling:
[Chief Justice Roberts, in his dissent,] said, those who want same-sex marriage, you have every right to lobby in state legislatures to make that happen, but the dissent’s view was that it wasn’t for the court to decide…So I think Obergefell, and what we’re talking about for the future of the court, it’s really a who decides question.
In a Jacksonville University lecture, she argued that it’s a “strain on the text” to claim that Title IX, a federal law banning sex discrimination in education, applies to transgender people. During that same lecture, she intentionally misgendered transgender women, referring to them as “physiological men” while questioning transgender rights, specifically regarding their bathroom rights.
On November 4, the day after Election Day, the case of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia will be heard before the Court. In 2018, the City of Philadelphia learned that two of the city agencies that provide foster care services refuse to license same-sex couples as foster parents due to religious beliefs. While one agency complied to the City’s declaration that the agencies’ contracts prohibit such discrimination, the other sued the City claiming the right to freely exercise their religion. The Supreme Court will be considering whether municipal governments must allow taxpayer-funded organizations that provide critical services to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. With the Court’s potential political unbalance, a ruling hostile to equality could be a possibility.
If Judge Barrett is appointed as a Supreme Court Justice within the 30-odd days until Election Day, the future of the American political landscape will become even more unclear than it currently is. However, all we can do is wait and see what happens.