Editorial: The battle for the Supreme Court

The ISD Editorial Board believes no new Supreme Court justice should be nominated to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat until after the 2020 election in alignment with the decision made in 2016.

Editorial Board

“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” were the words of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, only days before passing away. Her monumental impact on women’s rights and relentless work toward achieving equality are characteristics that will define her legacy. 

The vacant seat in the Supreme Court has raised tensions as politicians and civilians consider the ethics of replacing Ginsburg with only two months before the presidential election. If President Donald Trump’s nomination is confirmed by the Senate, who ultimately makes the decision, this would be the third justice instated to the Supreme Court under Trump’s presidency, creating a 6-3 Conservative majority.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will accept Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, but many are wondering if the replacement process should wait until after the nearing presidential election. 

In 2016, Barack Obama’s last year of presidency, Justice Antonin Scalia passed away, leaving a vacancy in the Supreme court for Obama to nominate a replacement justice. However, the Senate majority was Republican and also led by McConnell. He refused to acknowledge the nomination’s existence, delaying the process for nearly a year until Trump could nominate a candidate.

Constitutionally, it was valid to ignore Obama’s nomination, although inconvenient to the Supreme Court, who was often divided on topics 4-4 for almost a year, creating delays. Both Republican and Democrat-controlled Senates have refused to confirm justices nominated in the past. 

McConnell argued, “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” 

Why don’t the American people get to have a voice in the upcoming selection?

The next argument was from 1992, when Joe Biden, then the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, reportedly urged President George Bush to hold off on nominating Supreme Court candidates if a spot was to open up. No vacancies occurred in 1992, however. This “Biden Rule” was used by Republicans in the Senate to justify ignoring Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland, even though he was moderate on many topics and favored by some Republicans. Nearly 20 years after 1992, the same argument is being ignored by McConnell to justify filling the current vacancy in the upcoming weeks.

We are living in a vastly different global environment than we were in 1992, or even 2016, which should be taken into consideration before we recreate past events for the sake of repetition. Obama could not get reelected in 2016, but Trump can in 2020. The Conservative Senate was opposed to Obama’s Liberal stance, whereas Trump stands in cohesion with them. Lastly, Obama nominated two Supreme Court candidates during his eight years in office, whereas Trump has (including Amy Coney Barrett) nominated three candidates in four years — creating a largely unbalanced High Court.

Mitch McConnell is accepting Trump’s nomination to the Senate, regardless of the backlash and the accusations of hypocrisy, in the hopes of instating another Conservative voice to the Supreme Court before the presidential election. 

2020 has affected every American differently and, unfortunately, due to COVID-19, environmental impacts such as wildfires and other factors, it is now more important than ever that every individual is represented within the voices of the Supreme Court. A concentration of Conservative justices is certainly not illegal, nor “bad” per se, but it limits the representation of the American population in the court cases that have the most impact. The same would be true of a concentration of Liberal justices as well. 

However, this is a decision that impacts the nation as a whole, and should not be made based on the wishes of one individual; Ginsburg may not have wanted Trump to nominate her replacement, but it is a constitutional right of the president to do so. This election is also expected to be highly contested, and may require assistance from the Supreme Court, which, admittedly, should be at full capacity to function at its highest level — this certainly did not matter to Senate Republicans in 2016.

While it’s important and helpful to examine similar occurrences in the past, the goal is to learn and grow from these examples instead of repeating the same thing every time. Ginsburg deserves unbound respect for her dedication to equality in the U.S., and her legacy should not be tarnished with a rushed replacement of her seat. Other politicians agree with this and are vocalizing the importance of waiting postelection to fill her vacancy. 

Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans made their position clear in 2016 by refusing to confirm Merrick Garland. Now, they should honor their words and refuse to confirm Amy Coney Barrett, though as of right now this seems unlikely.